Mr. Diji Obadiah Haruna
Some Muslim and Christian youths in Kaduna, under the aegis of Christian/Muslim Youth Peace Initiative, have of late been working together to stop ethno-religious clashes in the state and the North as a whole, but how far can this effort go? John Shiklam asks
The north has been ravaged by persistent ethnic and religious conflicts, compounding the underdevelopment of the region that is considered to be the most backward in Nigeria in terms of industrial and educational attainment.
The enormous damage inflicted on both Muslims and Christians who are always at each other’s throats at the slightest provocation has become a serious concern to Christians and Muslims alike. Recently, youths of the two religions, under the aegis of the Christian/Muslim Youth Peace Initiative (CMPYI), a non-governmental organisation, decided to embark on a campaign for peaceful coexistence among adherents of the two religious groups in the region.
Bridges of Understanding
According to leaders of the organisation, Dr. Shuaibu Suleiman Shinkafi and Mr. Diji Obadiah Haruna, who doubles as the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria (Youth CAN), the time has come to sensitise both Christian and Muslim youths to shun violence and embrace peace.
Shinkafi and Haruna told THISDAY last Sunday in separate interviews that the youths had been in the forefront of the killings and destruction during violent clashes, stressing that it is time to bring both groups together for a better understanding of each other for peace to reign.
For the past few months, especially during the Ramadan fast and during the Sallah celebrations, there were several visits by Christian youths to the mosques where they had to break the Ramadan fast with their Muslim counterparts. The group paid visits to various Islamic leaders during the Sallah celebrations.
The Muslim youths had earlier in March during the Easter period joined their Christian counterparts at the secretariat of the Kaduna State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria as part of efforts to build bridges of understanding.
Shinkafi said during the fast that Christian youths were invited to the historic Sultan Bello Mosque in Kaduna to break the fast with Muslims to demonstrate that Christians and Muslims can live together peacefully.
He said, “We invited them to show the whole world, particularly Kaduna and the entire north, that the youths are tired of fighting and killing each other. We want to have lasting peace; we believe that Christians are our brothers. We are all one, so why should we be fighting? We are Nigerians, so why are we killing ourselves. So we are out to find a lasting solution to this problem. We the youths are the ones that will take over the mantle of leadership in this country in the nearest future, if we continue killing ourselves, then how are we going to take the mantle of leadership?
“It is true that the youths always engage in political, religious and ethnic problems and we are telling the world that we are tired. We intend to embark on massive sensitisation of youths all over the north to shun violence and other acts that tend to retard our progress.
“We were the first to visit to the secretariat of CAN in Kaduna during the Easter period. We intend to create more avenues for interaction between Muslim and Christian youths, especially in the area of sports like football. We are discussing how we can organise a football match after the Ramadan fasting,” Shinkafi said.
He noted that many youths were jobless, pointing out that his group is trying to encourage them to develop their skills and find thing to do so that they can be useful to themselves and the community.
Shinkafi lamented that the north was backward in the area of education and called on governors of the region to address the problem of illiteracy which, he noted, is part of the causes of the frequent sectarian clashes in the region.
Also commenting, Haruna maintained that there was no basis for fighting between Christians and Muslims.
“Why are we fighting each other? Why are we not harnessing our energy to develop, instead? A Christian cannot do without a Muslim; neither can a Muslim do without a Christian. God didn’t make a mistake by creating us together and so we must learnt to tolerate each other by coming together. We are setting up structures at the local government levels in Kaduna State to encourage this kind of interaction among youths,” Haruna said.
He added, “We need the support of all well meaning people to reorient their attitude towards each other. The reason why we are having this problem is because of the moral decadence in the society. Many parents are not living up to their responsibilities of bringing up their children properly. The business of peace is everybody’s business because nothing can work without peace. We are out to go from community to community to preach to the youth that violence is evil and does not bring about progress and development.
“We want to be our brother’s keepers because without peace one cannot practice his or her religion perfectly. We, therefore, resolved to come together to do everything possible to restore lasting peace, not only in Kaduna but in Nigeria at large.”
Haruna explained that after Kaduna State, the next state to benefit from this program was Plateau State.
Beckoning on the Elders
During the Ramadan and the Sallah periods CMPYI members undertook visits to Islamic clerics to seek their support. Among those who played host to the group were renowned Islamic scholars, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, leader of the African Shia Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky as well as chairmen of CAN and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) in Kaduna State.
Sheikh Gummi while hosting the youths accused the United States of being behind the activities of Boko Haram, maintaining that it is an artificial commotion to cause confusion among Nigerians by the American and other Western powers.
He said, “There are external forces trying to divide Nigeria. The Americans and other Western powers want to break us and cart away our oil resources, just like during the time of slavery. Religion is not dividing us. A group suddenly came out and said they are Boko Haram; we don’t know them. America doesn’t want us to be together again but our leaders don’t care about it. What bothers them is how to collect their dollars and pretend that all is well. Nigerian leaders are not thinking about common citizens.”
Also addressing the youths during their visit, former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, called on government at all levels to engage religious leaders in the fight against insecurity in the country, saying, “This is important because they are the ones who have more links with the grassroots. If we continue with Muslim and Christian solidarity, peace may return.”
Receiving CMPYI members at his Zaria residence, Sheikh Zakzaky commended the initiative, noting that the difference between man and other animals is the sense of reasoning possessed by man if he uses the senses correctly.
Zakzaky said Nigeria was founded by the colonialists not for Nigerians but for their own economic interest. He said the faulty foundation of the Nigerian state was being exploited by some interest groups to achieve their personal interests.
“I hate the term tribal. No one has chosen to belong to any tribe. He only found himself belonging to the tribe and so there is no reason one should fight on the basis of tribe. I am detribalised.
“There is rivalry in Nigeria due to its composition. Rivalry could be useful and could be destructive as well. It could be useful when it brings competition and development and it could be destructive when people use it to fight one another.
“The issue of religion has the concept of ‘we are right and every other person is wrong.’ And this is due to differences. In the past the politicians have used these differences for their personal benefits. They used these to build themselves while they make people to believe that those who profess a contrary faith are their enemies.
“Also our enemies from outside use the same thing to achieve their interest. There are those who exploit our religious differences to achieve their benefits. Like the so-called Boko Haram is a programme from outside. They are exploiting the religious differences to create tension in order to achieve their selfish goals,” Sheikh Zakzaky said.
He added, “If we know that we have to live together why then don’t we stop the fight and come and to live together in peace?”
However, while many welcome the move by CMYPI to bridge the religious gap, there are doubts as to how far the youth can go in entrenching the much-needed peaceful coexistence.
Kaduna State chairman of JNI, Alhaji Ja’afaru Makarfi, said every well-meaning Nigerian should support the CMYPI initiative.
Makarfi, who disclosed that both JNI and CAN were trustees of the youth organisation, called on similar groups to come together.
He said, “We will support any move that will bring about peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. We are encouraging other similar groups to come together. God has created us to live together; we have to continue to live together.
“Nobody can go it alone without the other and say he would survive well in this world. The developed countries are coming together to form their associations, it means nobody can do things his own way without coming together because you can’t survive in this modern world by living alone. It is a welcome idea for the youths to come together and I urge every well-meaning Nigerian to should support them.”
But the public relations officer of CAN in the 19 Northern states and FCT, Mr. Sunday Oibe, said sincerity was needed for lasting peace in the north.
“Eating together is good, but discussing issues in a frank and honest manner which will bring about peace, especially in the north, goes beyond that. The initiative is quiet commendable and am happy that our youths have seen the need to work towards lasting peace among adherents of Christianity and Islam, but I doubt if they will achieve it because of the deeply rooted suspicion and mistrust among Muslims and Christians,” Oibe said.
‘Honesty is of the Essence’
According to him, “As much as that is desirous, it is not the real thing that should be done. These youths that are doing this, are they in touch with the larger group of youths out there. How about those who are preaching hate intolerance?
“These youths that are visiting mosques and churches, do they think alike with those ones that kill and massacre people? Do they have the same perception of each other? Do they have respect for each other’s faith? We have seen them eat together then tomorrow they will start killing one another. So to me, yes, it is good to have dinner or break Ramadan fast together because it creates an opportunity for interaction and discussion which may lead to better understanding between the two groups, but achieving peace goes beyond that.
“The major problem facing us, which has consistently led to this crisis, is our inability to tell ourselves the truth. Any society that does not accept the truth, that society cannot witness development.
“All our leaders and youths have not been able to tell each other the truth. I think what the youths need to do is to come together at a round table and discuss their value systems and agree to respect each other’s value system, I think that is what they need to be doing.”
Also commenting on the issue, the Special Adviser to Governor Patrick Yakowa on Christian Religious Matters and former secretary of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN, Rev. Joseph Hayab, noted that the mutual visits and sharing of food is just one part of the process of building bridges.
“We can also greet and respect each other’s faith as a way of promoting the friendship; we can assist one another as a way of promoting the friendship. Any thing you do that you know will offend your brother; you won’t do it as part of promoting the friendship. But since the breaking of fast is just one part of many things, it should not be isolated and it should not also be looked at as if it is not going to do the magic, it will contribute to the magic of uniting people,” Hayab maintained.
Keeping Hope Alive
But for Murtala Abubakar, a politician, the coming together of Christian and Muslim youths is a very good omen.
According to him, “I strongly believe that such interaction will bring about better understanding among Christian and Muslim youths. Part of the problem that cause misunderstanding is this gap in communication and this creates suspicion. The visitation is very healthy and we are encouraging ourselves to continue to sustain it.
“We want to see women and religious groups doing the same thing. What we are demonstrating is to expose enemies of peace. After all, we all have a common destiny. We must work together to bring about what will make all of us achieve our dreams.”
Abubakar said, “Those who are saying that it is not enough to visit and eat together are missing the point. Let me give you one example, some people had a misunderstanding among themselves and they went to an elder to help them resolve the issue. So the elder told them that if they wanted to resolve the matter, they must do two things; he asked them to go and sleep together, but when they discovered that they couldn’t sleep under the same roof, he asked them to go and eat together, so in the course of eating together, they started talking and the barrier was broken and they were able to discuss and resolve their differences.”
Another politician who pleaded anonymity described the coming together of Muslim and Christian youths as the right step towards sensitising the youths to shun violence. He, however, said he was sceptical about the initiative because of the experiences of the past.
According to him, there were several occasions when Muslims and Christians signed agreements to live in peace, only for violence to erupt soon after.
“Last year, we had a similar incident of Muslim youths visiting a church in Kano, but few weeks later, a church was attacked at the Bayero University, Kano. Let it not be a ploy to tame the other side while the other side is preparing evil.”
He referred to a recent incident in Jos during the Sallah when Muslim youths who were returning home after their prayers attacked churches and vandalised vehicles belonging to Christians who were still in church at the Redeem Christian Church of God, Farin-Gada.
He also referred to the activities of some preachers. “If you listened to some of the Tafsirs during the Ramadan period, you will notice that some of the Mallams were preaching hatred. So how do we make peace when a Mallam can preach that Muslims should not live in place that is more populated by ‘infidels’?”
But many believe with proper value orientation and given their number, the youth of Kaduna can actually succeed in allaying the deep-rooted fears and suspicion among adherents of the two major religions in Northern Nigeria.