OPENING SPEECH @ DREP ROUND TABLE MEETING
MEETING OF ETHNIC, RELIGIOUS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS ON THE RECENT CRISIS SITUATION IN PARTS OF PLATEAU STATE AT THE DIALOGUE RECONCILIATION AND PEACE (DREP) CENTRE, JOS, 26TH JULY 2018.
OPENING SPEECH BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF JOS
Dear distinguished and peace-loving Royal Fathers, venerable elders, Imams, Archbishops, Mallams, Bishops, Sheikhs, Christian leaders of different denominations, Muslim leaders of different groups, community leaders and youth leaders from the different ethnic and religious groups in Plateau State.
Permit to begin by thanking each and everyone of you for sacrificing the time to be personally present in response to this invitation for an honest conversation and an objective reflection on the tragic occurrences in parts of our dear Plateau State. I heartily welcome you to the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre, a neutral venue for peace talks and reconciliation open to all and to which you are always invited.
Our main aim for inviting you to this inter-faith and interethnic meeting is to rub minds, to find a special moment to grieve in our hearts, and also to express our revulsion against the ugly recent events of killings and destruction in parts of Plateau State. We also wish to convey our heart-felt condolences to affected families and to offer prayers for a quick recovery for the wounded and displaced persons. We also want to demonstrate how remorseful we are before God for offences committed in our land by saying categorically reconfirming to the world that we in Plateau State are peace – lovers and are vehemently against whatever violates the sanctity of human life or destroys people’s means of livelihood and homes. According to African tradition, elders mourn in their hearts and nod their heads from side to side in painful agony. We want to do same here, but to also express our very profound remorse before God for all that has happened in parts of our beautiful Plateau State – in Barkin Ladi, Jos South, Mangu, Riyom, Bokkos, etc.
People of goodwill should not only be merely saddened and depressed by such barbaric killings and destruction but should also emphatically denounce, resist, abhor and condemn the inhuman acts.
No sane person should support the gruesome murders, reprisal attacks, blocking of roads and killing of people. Elsewhere, in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States, killing by armed bandits are all signs that security agents must devise a more serious and functional strategy to combat crime.
I understand that, even now, isolated attacks and killings still sadly go on. It is estimated that about 40,000 people have abandoned their homes and fled from their farms or legitimate businesses, and are now living in hastily constructed camps. Both farmers and herders live in morbid fear of one another. Many also believe that the crisis is no longer about herders and farmers alone, but is being perpetrated by armed bandits or local and foreign invaders with the ambition for territorial control or domination.
No one has benefited from the killings of little children and helpless women who even in normal war situations are usually spared. The killings were so brutal that the killers did not know the difference between young or old, or between animals or children! This is very sad. Let us remember that God the Almighty will judge very severely all who do such evil for whatever reason – political, economic, ethnic or religious. These acts of violence are totally unacceptable, condemnable and reprehensible.
Let our meeting here today inspire us to embark on more peace initiatives even in the midst of such atrocities; and to draw from our respective faiths and cultures the strength, courage and hope to propel Plateau State to the highest heights, so that no evil fashioned against Plateau State will succeed, in God’s name.
We are all affected, and we are gathered here not to judge or condemn anyone or group. That is the work of the civil authorities who have the facts that we may not have. Let the government and security agents fish out the perpetrators of the dastardly crimes and deal with them according to the law. God will do the rest.
We can, however, turn to one another to confess that we have sinned against ourselves, against heaven and against God, either by our silence, provocative statements, active involvement or tele-guided conspiracy, and to ask the Lord for his mercy, compassion and pardon; to beg, too, in the name of our people, that those responsible will be touched and transformed and that God will replace the evil in their hearts with good; and that their hearts of stone will be changed to hearts of flesh. No finger-pointing or any blame game can heal the fatal wounds inflicted on families and our image, nor can the dead be brought back to life, no matter how sorry we say we are. What we ask for is that there should be a definitive stop to this barbarism. We should resort to the civilized conduct of dialogue and conflict resolution, no matter how provoked we feel we may be.
From such repeated bloody attacks our children and teenagers are learning that it is all right to kill for any reason. They are growing up not knowing the sanctity of human life or blood. Adults have planted hateful seeds of discord and bitterness in them and indoctrinated the ungodly notion that being a member of one tribe or religion or being a herdsman or farmer is a criminal offence. What a tragedy! Instead of exploiting the rich and abundant potentials of agriculture and animal husbandry, or harmonizing our diversity and blending the values of our religions and ethnicity, we are prepared to fight each other to extinction. In other climes, those who love their country are exploring space and achieving incredible technological feats; but here we are still about killing and fighting over land matters, political power, and mundane material possessions; and we are prepared to deal cruelly with one another. If we continue murdering and destroying ourselves, who will remain to own the geographical space called Plateau State or Nigeria? We must remember that death will visit each and every one of us. Why then should anybody be so brutal to a fellow human being? We pass through this world only once, and instead of spending time planning and executing evil we should do what is for our common good. If we allow evil to triumph, we should know that hell exists and that God is still the Creator, the Almighty, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient, and the Ultimate Judge.
Dear brothers and sisters, our meeting here should not end in a superficial conversation or the exchange of mere pleasantries, but with one heart, mind and soul we should say no to this barbarism, and tell our children or those we know to have been involved in clear terms to stop it. We must say no to the evil of bloodshed and violence, no matter the degree of provocation; we must encourage our people to resort to the law or to the traditional system of dispute settlement when provoked.
Government must stop this bloody feast. It is no longer news that, from Zamfara, to Taraba, Benue to Bauchi, and other parts of Northern, Eastern or Western Nigeria, it does not matter again that human blood seems to flow like streams of water!
If foreign invaders, as alleged, are the cause of our insecurity then our security agents on whom trillions of Naira are spent should smoke them and their local collaborators out. And if this is the hand work of heartless insiders or politicians without conscience, allowing it to go on would imply that our security apparatus is so feeble and incapacitated that it cannot identify or tackle those fuelling the crises.
There is no denial that internal and external forces have infiltrated our communities to cause damage to lives and property, and something must be done to put a stop to their nefarious activities. Elders seem to have gone quiet, perhaps because of political differences. They and ethnic and community leaders should come together to denounce this evil that threatens the soul of Plateau State. But this can happen only if we agree to transcend narrow ethnic, political or religious sentiments to collectively voice our condemnation, and to join hands with the incumbent Governor of Plateau State and the security agents to find ways of healing the wounds and promoting peaceful coexistence. Failure to do this will lead to catastrophic consequences for all of us and not only for the political authorities.
Plateau, the home of peace and tourism, has vast potentials. The weather is excellent. Our climate is favorable for the production of “Irish” potatoes, carrots, cabbages, strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, apples, mangoes, acha, yams, etc. Why should anyone or group want to destroy this God-given prosperous land?
The Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre has, in consultation with some faith leaders, scheduled a prayer at this venue for the 31st of August at 10am. Initially, it was meant for the Irigwe and Fulani groups of Bassa Local Government, but now we wish to expand it to include more people. All of us here are invited. We hope to meet here with Muslims and Christians to lift up our hands in supplication to God for his mercy and pardon. Whether we call God “Allah”, “God”, “Dagwi”, “Naan” or “Nen”…., He is our God and we are His children.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us return home from this meeting with hearts flowing with more peace, love, and forgiveness, and with an earnest desire to work harder, act, and spread only that which promotes the common good and harmonious coexistence.
Peace be with you.
Dagwi a sele da yin mwa.
Oluwa bukun yin.