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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.”

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.