MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS NEED Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) TO SOLVE THE BOKO HARAM ISSUES IN NIGERIA. Part 1
According to His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, in a speech he delivered at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Washington DC, on 13 November, 2007 “We do not need to convince anybody that the series of religious crises witnessed in many Nigerian cities in the last two decades, especially in the Northern states, was not only unhelpful to Nigeria’s socio-economic development but very injurious to Muslim – Christian relations. These crises significantly undermined the basis of our collective existence that took generations, and in some instances, centuries to build and nurture; and resulted in massive loss in human life and material resources, which no society could ill-afford.
But it is also a view I strongly hold that these unfortunate incidents have neither the social base nor the religious justification in Nigerian society. Many families, especially in the South-West and the North Central zones, harbor members of different religious affiliations who had co-existed and continue to co-exist in peace and harmony.
Sultan of Sokoto said that most importantly, Jesus [AS] also occupies a special place in Islamic Doctrine and Eschatology and one cannot be a true Muslim without believing in the Prophet-hood of Isa [AS]. The permission granted to Muslims to marry from the Ahl al-kitab [People of the Book] and to partake of their food, are further proofs of Islam’s goal in establishing harmonious Muslim – Christian relations based on toleration and mutual respect.
Religion and conflict
It is worth pointing out that conflict between Muslims and Christians was, until very recently, a rare occurrence in Nigeria. The dominant form of conflict was of a communal nature, involving clashes over farmlands and the use of other natural resources.
It took the involvement of state and local authorities and the intervention of traditional rulers to re-establish communal property rights and to broker lasting peace. This form of conflict also covers the perennial clashes between cattle nomads, especially the Fulani, and sedentary farmers, who could belong to Hausa, Fulani or other ethnic groups and could be Muslim or non-Muslim.
In the South-West and the South-East zones of the country, communal clashes also constitute the dominant form of conflict. These clashes may, however, assume regional and religious dimensions when they involve Northerners resident in these areas as witnessed in the Shagamu, Aba and Onitsha riots of the past few years. The other dominant form of conflict in Nigeria and especially in the Northern states had been intra-religious, based on doctrinal and other differences which led to some clashes between the adherents of the different sects, some of them resulting in loss of life and property.
Conflicts within Sufi [mystic] groups and between them and the Salafi (Islamic traditionalist-reformist) movement fall into this category. From 1980, the Maitatsine Riots also became a worrisome phenomenon in northern cities. This shadowy group, avowedly anti-modern, struck at Kano, in the North-West, in December of the same year leaving behind over four thousand persons dead.
In 1982, they rioted in Maiduguri and two years later, in Yola , all in the North-East, leaving another trail of casualties, which is almost entirely Muslim. It could be said that serious Muslim-Christian conflict, with pan-regional implications, came to the fore only in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Kafanchan and Zangon Kataf religious crises, both located in the southern part of Kaduna State, in the North-West of Nigeria.
These two incidents led to massive loss of life, Muslim as well as Christian, and introduced the ominous practice of church and mosque burning.
What caused this major transformation in the nature of religious conflict in Nigeria?
In the numerous conferences and researches which usually follow these unfortunate incidents, our attention is usually drawn to several pertinent issues. Firstly, there was the issue of growing religious activity and consciousness in Nigeria, especially during the last two decades of the 20th Century. The proliferation of mosques and churches in almost all our urban centers and the intensification of mass religious activities, facilitated by ease of mobility and mobilization, helped to bring the issue of religious identity and exclusivity into sharp focus.
Secondly, there are indications to suggest that the transformation in the nature of religious conflict in Nigeria coincided with the period of intense polarization within both the military and civilian elite, who were keen to stake out constituencies and establish relevance in their local communities. This development seriously exacerbated the indigene/settler issue and contributed to growing religious animosity within the affected communities.
Thirdly, attention has also been drawn to the fact that many of these religious conflicts either coincided or came after intense debate over religious matters, which polarized the nation. Nigeria’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) generated sufficient controversy in the late 1980s and early 1990s as to engender a negative atmosphere for Muslim – Christian relations in the country.
The Sharia’s debates of 1999 – 2002 were equally as rancorous.
Last but not the least, has been the rise of poverty especially in urban areas and the frustrations associated with this phenomenon among the youth, who took advantage of and hijacked these crises to perpetrate arson and plunder not as an expression of religious piety but as a revenge on a society which took little pity in their economic plight. But cogent as these explanations could be, they cannot absolve Nigerians from the burden of moral responsibility or lessen that burden in any way. Otherwise, how do we reconcile the rise in religious activity, the proliferation of mosques and churches and the aggressive display of religious piety with the readiness with which we pounce on our neighbors and townsmen, maiming and killing without any sense of revulsion?
What has happened to the religious virtues of compassion, love, honor and respect for thy neighbor and indeed, the religious sanctity of life and property of a fellow human being? How can a society function and thrive where a person pays no deference to higher authority or judicial institutions but mobilizes his compatriots to wreck havoc on the community? These are some of the questions which are worrisome enough to prick the conscience of every Nigerian and to make everyone in the position of leadership to accord peace-building and religious harmony the attention they so urgently deserve.
Visit here again for the continuation of the Boko Haram solution!