ACN News: Monday, 25th January 2010 – NIGERIA
The truth about the killings
Archbishop speaks out over Muslim-Christian violence in Jos
· Government to blame for not providing adequate security
· Poverty and inter-tribal tension are the “root causes” of the violence
· “Biased” media coverage has caused the crisis to escalate
By John Pontifex
LACK of political will is to blame for the outbreak and spread of violence in Nigeria, according to the region’s top Church leader, who says that many lives would be saved if the government acts faster to provide security.
Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos spoke out against government and other political figures, accusing them of failing to do enough for what he called an “abandoned people” living in desperate poverty compounded by inter-tribal tensions.
Speaking from Nigeria in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop said the people’s lack of basic services mean they are easy prey for radical groups using religion to whip up support for violence and intolerance.
His comments come a week after a spate of killings broke out in and around Jos, in central Nigeria, where Muslim-Christian clashes have led to hundreds of deaths.
Archbishop Kaigama, who as chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria represents Churches across the region, accused the government of not acting fast enough to provide security as the crisis broke.
Explaining that the state governor’s request for extra security had to be passed up to Federal government leaders before being approved, he said: “Those who live here are an abandoned people. It can take up to a whole day to get the necessary security support.
“If they had responded quicker, many lives would have been saved. The state governor is handicapped at the moment. It takes too long to get the required assistance.”
The archbishop was speaking a few hours after attending a high-level meeting of politicians, tribal and religious leaders at a discussion led by David Jonah Jang, Governor of Plateau State.
He went on to accuse the government and other political figures of failing to address the root causes of the violence, which he stressed were not primarily religious but more tribal, ethnic, economic and political.
“The government and security agents should have identified the root causes of the violence and this has not been done. Now they are asking what can be done. This should have been done a long, long time ago.”
He added: “It is unfortunate when religion is being used to camouflage the real problems. Religion is a tool being used by politicians who have ulterior motives.
“They have not been able to resolve who are indigenous to the area and who are settlers. You need to find the best way to relate to these groups. Many are very restive. This needs to be addressed politically and socially.”
He said that many young people joined in the violence because they are unemployed, with nothing to do. “They are ready,” he said. “It is exciting for them.”
A deepening economic crisis in the region is also to blame for the violence, said the archbishop. He said electricity and clean water supplies are poor and that schools and universities are closed for weeks and months at a time because of strike action over staff pay.
“As a priest and a bishop, I spend almost all of my time doing social work. People come and queue up outside where I work, asking me for help with their sick children, getting a job and so on.
“The government has failed to address these issues. Even when they have the resources, they do not channel it into the areas which really need it.”
The archbishop also criticised the media, alleging that many of the reports were untrue or exaggerated.
Commenting on media claims that several hundreds had died in the violence, he said that the extent of the unrest meant it was impossible to provide accurate figures for the number killed in the atrocities.
He accused the media of relying on biased sources. “The media get the Hausa [tribe] Muslims to provide the information but this means that the reporting is biased and prejudiced.
“They say things that are not true and when others hear it on the local radio, they get alarmed and it just makes the whole situation much worse. Those responsible for the media need to show more discernment.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 46.5 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org