Reconciliation: Working for peace in Nigerian conflict zone

Reconciliation and peace-making is at the heart of the mission of the Anglican church around the world. Church leaders and members are often working in sacrificial ways to bring communities together and help people find ways to live in peace, as well as supporting the victims of conflict. This ‘love in action’ is one way of showing God’s love for the world in a practical way. Some parts of the Anglican Communion are combining peace-making with tackling environmental issues linked to conflict…

Lack of resources threatening people’s livelihoods is a key factor in a number of conflict zones in Africa, according to Nicholas Pande, the Project Officer for the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). But he says the Anglican churches and its leadership are playing a key role in attempting to build peace in these areas.

Nicholas Pande, whose role is to look at food security, disaster resilience and response, health, environmental conservation and climate change adaptation, has been working with Anglican bishops across Africa, along with other agencies, to find ways to tackle conflicts.

He said, “We’re taking a multi-sector approach to look at these issues and bring them into the limelight. In Africa we’re having conflict which is instigated by climate change. This is mostly coming from pastoral communities, that are basically livestock keepers. They get into situations where they have depressed pasture because of depressed water sources. While they would normally graze their livestock where they live, it gets to a point where they have to move out of their home, sometimes they move into other communities and cross borders into other countries, just to look for pasture for their livestock.”

“It is happening a lot in the horn of Africa where we’ve got these pastoral communities… most of these things cause conflict around them finding places to graze their cattle. The problem is that it is armed conflict because they all have guns to protect their cattle.”

He said the same resource-based conflict, was also widespread in West Africa in the Sahel region, in particular in central Nigeria.

“They take livestock into farms and onto other people’s crops and that has brought a lot of conflict in Benin and Nigeria. The Fulani tribe is a huge community in West Africa and there has been a lot of movement of that community because of depressed resources.”

The Bishop of Makurdi, in Nigeria, the Rt Revd Nathan Inyom, said the farmer herdsman conflict had caused the displacement of almost 1 million people over the last decade in his area, in central Nigeria, as people fled the fighting. The Bishop himself, along with his wife and a member of staff, were victims of a violent attack a few years ago, when his car was stolen, but he was not injured.

“Many have had to flee from their ancestral homes,” Bishop Nathan said. “This is mostly a farming area and three quarters of people live in the country. The herdsman have been attacking them to take over the farm lands for their cattle.”

He said many of the herdsmen were armed and terrorised the people, who had become homeless, and ended up living in refugee settlements.

“I grew up in this area, the land is very fertile and that’s why they want the cattle to feed on it. The church is doing a lot to try to bring justice and peace to the region,” he said.

Bishop Nathan is a member of Benue state security council and part of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Church of Nigeria, he said they were attempting to help initiate dialogue between the different communities, although some of the militias are fighters hired to protect the herdsmen, and are not interested in talking. Despite this he said they are working with the church and state at national and regional level to attempt interventions and bring the two sides together.

The bishop has been facilitating conflict resolution, working with a number of agencies as well as faith leaders. He said environmental issues, like lack of water were part of the problem and had driven the herdsmen into the fertile agricultural areas.

“We’re looking for people who can partner with us and increase our voice and participation in building peace and help us to do it better and address the situation on the ground. Dialogue is one approach, but we are also looking at the environmental factors and how we can take those on board to help tackle the conflict issues.”

Bishop Nathan is the author of two books on conflict resolution in Nigeria and said they are looking at three key steps towards building peace and resolving conflict which are having an awareness of the situation, acquiring new skills and being ready do something to bring about change. The bishop is also working with CAPA as a facilitator for conflict resolution and peace in Africa and has agreed to represent Nigeria on a United Nations peace building and religious affairs project, after being linked to them by Lambeth Palace.

He said, “I’m very hopeful for the future to find a lasting peace. We need to intensify consultations and intervene in a bigger way, bringing in different parties for discussion. I am hopeful we will be able to find lasting solutions.”

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