Posts

Peacebuilding in Nigeria: Debunking a Violent Discourse

Isa, a Fulani herdsboy in Nigeria | Credit dotun55

Daniel Green is the Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Intern at Tanenbaum. A note from Daniel: As a Tanenbaum intern, I have the unique privilege of participating in Peacemaker in Action Network calls every few weeks. Pastor James of Nigeria provided an update on Nigeria that had me curious about the dynamics of conflict in his region. Below is a researched account of the current multidimensional conflicts in Nigeria through the lens of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s latest efforts.


Violence in Nigeria is mounting to a point of crisis, and the Boko Haram insurgency only accounts for a fraction of it. In central Nigeria, an ongoing conflict between semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers has swelled in recent years. Over the last four years, the frequency and severity of violence have persisted at alarming rates, with 3,600 deaths between January 2016 and October 2018. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been blamed for a paucity of state intervention, and in some cases, for allowing the assailants de factoimpunity.” In a vacuum of law, order, and prosecution, attacks and reprisals are carried out by both communities.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa work throughout Nigeria and the world. Some of their work takes them to the sites of these atrocities, to the interstices of warring groups. Leading their Interfaith Mediation Centre, the duo preaches peace and forgiveness in an attempt to reroute the lives of young militants and shift the bellicose ideologies of the old. However, peacemaking in this climate is particularly onerous.

Tensions first arose between herders and farmers in Nigeria in association with ecological and geographical challenges. As the majority Muslim Fulani herdsmen historically grazed their cattle in the northern Sahelian belt, which borders the Sahara Desert, their communities were the first affected by increasing drought and desertification. Contemporaneously, Boko Haram has carried out regular attacks in the North, extorted protection money from locals, and recruited younger residents for radicalization. With few alternatives, herders have moved their cattle southward, where ecosystems range from “derived savanna”–forest cleared for cultivation–to humid forests. Complicating the issue further, Nigeria’s population has surged since the mid-twentieth century: from 57 million in 1963, to 198 million in 2018. The U.S. government projects that between 2016 and 2050, Nigeria’s population will grow from 186 million to 392 million, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. In order to account for increasing food demand, farm settlements have expanded rapidly, swallowing up more and more tenable land. Thus, with herds encroaching on the prized arable central and southern regions of Nigeria, an almost Malthusian struggle over land and resources ensued.

A majority of assaults unfold over the so-called Middle Belt, a swath of land comprising several latitudinally central states. Those most affected lie to the center-east: Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Taraba States, as well as Kaduna State, where Pastor James and Imam Ashafa base their operations. In mid-2018 the International Crisis Group (ICG) reported a spike in violence. Over 1,300 deaths between January and July of that year were attributed to clashes associated with herders and farmers. Over the same period, ICG estimated the displacement of approximately 300,000 individuals. After ICG’s 2018 report was published, a portentous statistic surfaced throughout Western reports on Nigeria’s tribulations: as of July, the “farmer-herder” violence had become six times deadlier than Boko Haram’s ongoing insurgency. The surge in violence has deeply troubled Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, who call ceaselessly for young Nigerians to lay down their arms and to accept forgiveness. However, amid the tangible horrors, a discursive polarization has further threatened the prospect of peace.

For Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, conflict mediation became more complicated when an ethno-religious element entered popular discourse. As Pastor James remarked in a recent Peacemakers in Action Network call, the conflict “has taken a new dimension.” 

“Especially in regions where Christians are dominant, these attacks are perceived to be motivated by some form of religion,” Pastor James explained on a March 20th Peacemakers in Action Network call. Assailants often attack sacred places, he said, kidnapping pastors with the idea that ransom money can be extracted from their congregations. Targeting a community “of the cloth” serves a dual purpose–if not only to extract funds, to disintegrate its social standing and organizational capacity. With such a high rate of attacks on religious institutions it is not inconceivable that largely Christian farming communities would tend to perceive these brutal assaults as religiously motivated and targeted. After all, the Muslim Fulani represent about 90% of Nigerian pastoralists.

“However,” said Pastor James, “this does not stop at only Christian communities. In Muslim communities in the north of Kaduna State, [armed bandits] are also killing people, rustling cattle, raping women, kidnapping for ransom and taking the money, sometimes killing the captives after the money is received.” The distinction, Pastor James argued, is that these attacks in the northern states are not given a “religious coloration,” whereas attacks in Christian communities are. On an earlier call, in January 2020, Pastor James argued that the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a Boko Haram affiliate, is vying for religious war in Nigeria. “ISWA is trying to instigate interreligious violence by killing their victims and saying they are killing them because they are Christian,” James said. Regardless of these discursive colorations, members of all communities are victims.

Crucial to an accurate understanding of this conflict, or these conflicts, is a conception of multidimensionality. In fact, when Pastor James remarked that the violence had “taken a new dimension,” what he meant was that it had taken yet another dimension. Media outlets have struggled to approach the crisis in Nigeria with nuance and tact. Western publications as reputable as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been criticized for their portrayal of African (and Asian) conflicts as black and white confrontations, as Manichean divides. This style of war reporting, in which two antagonistic sides are framed in intractable war, can have adverse effects on the potential of reconciliation and peace. In this case, lines have been increasingly drawn along religious affiliations. Even the Los Angeles Times published an article titled, “Guns, Religion and Climate Change Intensify Nigeria’s Deadly Farmer-Herder Clashes.” It is because of and against these circumstances that Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa call for peace at the grassroots level. 

The duo’s plea is twofold. First, they argue that spirituality is essential to the process of reconciliation, not to the mechanics of conflict. The predominately Muslim Fulani herders, and the majority Christian farmers cannot be construed as two monolithic groups. Many among their ranks share a longing for peace. “[A] thing that religious leaders can do is to call for prayer regularly in their places of worship and also have time to educate the people on how to be safe, where to go, what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James said. Religious leaders have an enormous capacity to organize individuals at the community level, and in a country whose government and security forces intervene in conflicts only selectively, this mechanism is crucial to the peace process. Further, by “what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James does not mean that Nigerians ought to abdicate their freedom of speech to local churches and mosques. Rather, he posits that religious leaders can educate communities on how to discuss the violence that unfolds before them. This brings us to Imam and Pastor’s other point.

The second prong of the duo’s appeal is discursive. Because the violence in the Middle Belt and northern states is multidimensional, Nigerians must refrain from frivolously dispensing blame on this and that group. As Pastor James explained, violence reverberates in Fulani and Christian communities alike, be it wrought by cattle rustlers, armed kidnappers, farmers, herders, Boko Haram militants or any sort of violent profiteer. “Together, those who are concerned about the safety of their people can come together and condemn the attacks of violence against every individual and call them criminals, not by calling them by a particular name, but by calling them criminals and rejecting that action,” Pastor James urged. 

The ideology and theology of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s peacebuilding is predicated on the fundamental equality of individuals, the recognition of their humanity, and the mutual respect or perhaps even love on which it is based, and to which it leads. Agapé, it has been called. It is a concept with which all Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action are intimately familiar. It is an idea that will prove a crucial component in reconciling Nigeria’s disheartened communities.

By Daniel Green

As Boko Haram rises, Nigerian Peacemakers Respond

Following the tranquility of evening prayers, the sounds of screaming children pierced Nigeria’s Dalori village as children were burnt alive. Boko Haram had arrived and three female suicide bombers detonated their vests, killing villagers who tried to stop their attack.

At Tanenbaum, we have witnessed the rise of Boko Haram through the eyes of our Nigerian Peacemakers in Action, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye. (Once mortal enemies, they now work together to teach warring religious youth and others to peacefully resolve conflicts.) Although ISIS dominates international headlines, Boko Haram is the world’s deadliest terrorist group – according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report. In 2014, ISIS slaughtered 6,073 people, while Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 terrorist deaths.[i]

“Boko Haram is devastating Nigeria,” noted Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky. “As thousands of families are torn apart by kidnappings, murder and fractured communities, children are being burned alive. But the victims of this local massacre are not the only ones affected. The global Muslim community, Christians and humanity at large is also suffering from these attacks.”

Peacemakers Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Nigeria, agree. Imam Ashafa notes how the media’s focus is on the atrocities committed by terrorist groups that claim the mantle of Islam. He worries that this overlooks the majority of Muslims who live peacefully and take action against terrorism. “The Muslim community is also a victim. We would never make attention-worthy headlines because the media wants to broadcast how much blood has been shed and how many have died, not how many were saved and how many fight against ISIS and Boko Haram.”[ii]

“Self-proclaimed Muslim terrorists capture the headlines, and many people incorrectly presume that terrorism and Islam are synonymous. And that leads to stereotypes, hate and alienation. This is a cycle we have to stop,” says Dubensky. “One way we can do this is through education. By sharing practical information, for example among teachers and community members, we can reduce hatred and make sure our communities become informed by facts instead of fear.”

Tanenbaum offers a range of educational curricula and other materials including its Combating Extremism resources, which help teachers and individuals address extremism constructively in classrooms and communities.

 


 

[i] The Institute for Economics and Peace. 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report. Publication. Accessed February 1, 2016. http://static.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/2015 Global Terrorism Index Report.pdf.

[ii]Nigeria’s Imam and the Pastor Talk Interfaith Conflict Issues.” University of Massachusetts Boston. December 9, 2015. Accessed February 01, 2016.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye Prepare Nigerians for Upcoming Elections

On February 7, 2015, exactly one week before Nigerians were set to head to the polls, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the Presidential and legislative elections for seven weeks (until March 28th). Concerned that Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in the North would jeopardize the safety of voters around the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, heeded the advice of national security officials – delaying the election and announcing a “major” multinational military operation against the terrorist organization. This decision has been widely criticized both in Nigeria and abroad; some worry the postponement will delegitimize the elections and others fear an increased likelihood of election-related violence.

Despite the danger posed by Boko Haram and the challenges posed by this politically charged environment, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers – Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Co-Executive Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center – remain undeterred in their work. Much like their efforts prior to the 2011 elections, these Nigerian Peacemakers are tirelessly preparing Nigerian communities around the country for the election and for conducting it in a peaceful manner.

Interviewed before the elections were postponed, Pastor James discussed the unique challenges posed by Boko Haram, as well as by national ethnic tensions.

Rather than targeting Christians and pitting Muslims against Christians, Boko Haram targets “everyone,” not a specific religious group. Also, many Nigerians are unwillingly being “conscripted, and some are abducted from their families” to become members of the group. As a result, Pastor James believes the insurgents have actually mitigated religious tensions in the country.

Pastor James says that if the opportunity arises he would sit down and talk with the insurgents about their demands. He noted that, prior to the recent offensive, the government’s response to Boko Haram included “soft diplomacy,” which involved an effort “to reintegrate the young men and women who are involved in this insurgency.”

As the elections approach, Pastor James is also concerned about ethnic tensions. Nigeria’s population of more than 149 million people is made up of over 250 ethnic groups. He and Imam Ashafa are urging their fellow Nigerians to respect the election results and refrain from violence as a means of voicing any displeasure. They are focused on the role of religious leaders in the country and believe it will be critical – and, indeed, many of them have been “calling on the populace not to make provocative statements and to play by the rules of the game.”

Pastor James is proud of his homeland and remains hopeful for its future. Yet he understands the challenges that lie ahead and the great need for Nigeria’s “religious leaders to come together as they have before.”

Women PeaceMakers Conference: Defying Extremism

Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence

Reflecting on the 2014 WomenPeacemakers Conference, Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence, hosted by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice

(November 19-21, 2014)

The Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence Conference was a whirlwind. The three full days consisted of narratives, tools, ideas, questions, and some collaborative problem solving.

Situated overlooking San Diego’s sparkling waters, both the bay and the ocean, the Kroc School bustled with conference activities. The picturesque landscape would prove a stark contrast to the gritty realities of the conference content. However, the serious nature of the conference did not leave a gloomy shadow over the days or personal interactions of conference participants, including 49 speakers from over 27 countries.

Instead, the conference topic and subsequent testimonials, panels, and working sessions, all genuinely invigorated the participants. Testimonials, like that of Margaret Arach Orech, Vicky Ibrahim, Arno Michaelis, Maxensia Nakibuuka, and Mubin Shaikh set the scene each day for why we all gathered: to pick up broken pieces and re-build a society or life that was riddled with hate manifested through violent religious extremism. They did not only move forward from traumatic experiences, but had the incredible courage to look back in attempts to fix what is broken in society and garner lessons to share with others. Each testimonial shone as a beacon of hope for the day, as well as genuine and thoughtful reminders that participants had some serious work and thinking to do and share on how to effectively combat religious extremism.

Panels allowed various organizations and individuals to share valuable insights into issues such as “building effective policies,” “gender initiatives,” “analysis of realities behind the headlines,” and talking with extremists. Resounding messages included the integral need for gendered responses: the involvement of women’s voices at all levels of defying extremism, including at the policy level, organizational level, national, regional, and local levels, grassroots levels, etc. One panelist spoke of a humbling reminder: women are often the first targets of extremist violence, and should be, seemingly obviously, included in discussions and policies that counteract extremist violence. Additionally, women often see the first signs of extremist behavior, at home or stirring in society. Women are on the frontlines and have unique access and insight that should be heeded in order to defy extremism.

Another resounding message included social media. Over and over again, participants heard examples of religious extremists, particularly ISIS and Boko Haram, using social media to recruit for the respective “causes.” Potential recruits are lured in by multiple factors, one of which is money, which feeds into the next message, the need for economic opportunities and sources of income for people in conflict situations. Youth and the unemployed populations may join ISIS or Boko Haram for a source of income.

Defying violent religious extremism is multifaceted and multilayered and requires equally complex and individual responses. Overall, there is a need to understand the different dynamics involved in extremism and not place blame solely on one group or factor.

The panels were rich in content and context and sought to provide innovative ways of addressing violent religious extremism and how to robustly incorporate women’s voices into the common narrative of defying extremism. Workshops provided a unique opportunity to deeply discuss pointed issues and topics. Since participants came from diverse perspectives, a purposeful decision made by the Institute for Peace and Justice conference coordinators, workshop presentations and discussions for problem solving, or further nuance, brought varied approaches that allowed respectful debate and further probing of topics like LGBT and Gender Inequality: Developing Gay-Straight Alliances to Counter Extremism, Development of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States.

Equally important were the conversations at breakfast, between conference sessions, and after the day. On the last morning of the conference, I shared breakfast with Maxensia from Uganda, Angeline from Jamaica, Margaret from Uganda, and a few other women. They work in different issues, different areas, and at varying levels of society. But, their shared outlook on always having hope truly humbled me. These three women working at different levels are peacemakers and embody all that I learn about in the classroom, including all of the horrifying realities, but they assured all of us at the table that if they wake up in the morning, there is always hope.

And, perhaps that was a takeaway from the conference: building networks of not just like-minded people doing similar work, but networks of diverse voices facing extremism, all of whom vigorously believe in and truly embody HOPE. And, amid all of the work that needs to be done to defy religious extremism, courageous men and women come together to thoughtfully and intensely work to find answers.

-Janie Dumbleton, Master’s Candidate in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies

Top news stories you need to know

A collection of top news stories from July 4 – July11, 2014:

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq •  Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen • 63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military • ISIS shows off child recruits • Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination • Learning More About The Hindu Religion

"Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)" - Al Arabiya NEWS

“Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)” – Al Arabiya NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq
Jihadists have destroyed at least six Shiite mosques and four shrines devoted to Sufi and Sunni Arab figures in Iraq’s Nineveh province. Images of the destruction using explosives and bulldozers were posted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/IS).

Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen
After a suspected revenge attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the father of Mohammed Abu Khdair, whose son was kidnapped and burned alive by suspected Israeli right-wing extremists.

“I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son,” Netanyahu said. “We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.

“We denounce all brutal behavior. The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu expressed.

63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military
Nigerian security sources have reported that 63 girls and women have escaped from Boko Haram, the group that is trying to create an Islamic state located in northern Nigeria. The hostages were captured as a group of 68 girls and women during a siege that left their village of  Kummabza burned to the ground.

The Nigerian women and girls found the opportunity to escape during fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.

Over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April from Chibok remain held captive by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

 

ISIS Shows Off Child Recruits in Front of their "Registration Office" -SYRIA: direct

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS shows off child recruits
Using Twitter, a pro-ISIS combatant named al-Simsim published a picture of young children recently recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “May God give them strength,” was al-Simsim’s message in addition to a comments that children are “racing to join the ranks” of ISIS.

The children were photographed in ragged clothing in front of an ISIS “registration office” in al-Bab, a town in the Aleppo province of Syria.

Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination
Faith-based advisers for President Obama are divided over an upcoming executive order that would legally prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation among federal contractors. The key issue is if this directive should allow a religious exemption. A letter to the president this Tuesday, July 8 stated:

“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” The letter was signed by over 100 signatories.

Last week, a letter requesting an exemption had been signed by former advisory council members along with Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals. Their request stated, ““A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

Learning More About The Hindu Religion
After reviewing a map developed by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Arizona authors learned that Hinduism has the second largest number of members in their state. On a visit to the Ekta Mandir temple in Phoenix, Sarah Ventre narrates her compelling experience.

Peacemakers provide counselling services to abducted girls

Nigerian Peacemakers in Action Pastor James and Imam Ashafa to Help Provide Counselling Services to Abducted Girls

The extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria in April. The much-publicized incident has garnered international support via social media with the “#BringOutGirlsBack” campaign. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s main perpetrator of religion-based violence, deepening the Muslim/Christian divide and threatening the right to religious freedom.

In light of these recent events in Nigeria, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have sprung into action alongside Family Health International (FHI) 360 and USAID. Wuye and Ashafa’s joint project, the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, will collaborate as one of the three groups working to provide counseling services to 57 recovered girl students from the Government Secondary School Chibok who were abducted by Boko Haram in April. The search continues for the remaining schoolgirls.

The Government Secondary School Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram have undergone significant trauma. The Nigerian state emphasized their willingness to provide services and support to the girls and to help them find their families.  Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed his concern for the girls to be rehabilitated and back in new schools. That’s where Peacemakers Pastor James and Imam Ashafa can help.

The Interfaith Mediation Centre is dedicated to working with their partners in order to provide services, including therapy for the girls. As Pastor James describes the deeply important project, he speaks about using a faith-based approach for recovery. The Interfaith Mediation Centre will work with the state-implemented structure and use their unique faith-based approach to counseling, recovery, and conflict resolution. They remain dedicated to helping the girls and other women who are survivors of the Boko Haram abductions.