Thursday, January 14, 2010

An interview with Nigerian church leader Toma H. Ragnjiya.

Toma H. Ragnjiya is a leader in Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) serving in a dual position as principal of Kulp Bible College (KBC) and director of the EYN Peace Program. In the following interview by mission workers Nathan and Jennifer Hosler, he talks about the EYN Peace Program and the sectarian and inter-religious violence that has broken out repeatedly in areas of northeastern and central Nigeria:

Q: What are your hopes for the peace and reconciliation curriculum at Kulp Bible College?

A: My hope and my vision are to have students know the basics of peace when they graduate and go to their communities. Throughout Nigeria, it is obvious that Muslims and Christians live side-by-side. We want students to have the basic concept of peace so that they can participate in the community as peacemakers at their own level.

I was so glad to have Nathan and Jennifer to be the supporting staff here at KBC. Being young and new, you are well-received by students. [Peace and Reconciliation] is a new thing that we do not have in our curriculum and so we want to develop it. This way, it will be a continuous thing that can be shared with other Bible schools and other church schools. Gradually it will expand further; we have to start at the base which is the center of leadership training for EYN. If [students] have it, then soon the whole church will have it gradually.

Q: What do you see the role of the EYN Peace Program is in equipping the church as a whole?

A: You see, EYN does not have the real basis as a peace church because when the missionaries came they [taught peace] but not directly as we have now. They had a lot of problems, conflicts in the communities, so their main emphasis was preaching the gospel. It was really a holistic approach because [the missionaries brought] not just the gospel but they also brought education, medical care, and a new method of agriculture. These things touched lives. While there was no specific subject of peace as we are doing now, we are building on [their] foundation.

When we started [the EYN Peace Program], we had the District Church Council, chairmen, and secretaries attend Peace Seminars because they are the ones closer to the grassroots. They have gone through the basic concept of peace, introducing to them or reminding them that our church was founded on peace. It is one of the pillars of the church’s teaching. We have tried that with the aim that gradually the members will all come to appreciate peacemaking and be peacemakers at their own level in the society.

Q: I know the US church is interested in what has happened since [the violence in] Maiduguri and Jos. Can you tell me about what you’ve seen in those communities since you’ve done some research in the aftermath?

A: You know the Middle Belt, the Plateau, has been the center of Christianity [in Nigeria]. Also, those who have been opposing Christianity have had their eyes on Jos [in Plateau State]. There have been crises between Muslims and Christians, not necessarily based on religion as such but a question of indigene-ship, a question of economy, who controls what. It happens that [the ethnic indigenes of the Jos plateau] are not Muslims, they are Christians. And then the Hausas--as a people, as a tribe, as an ethnic group--happen to be Muslims. So religion had to come in [to the conflict]. It is not that there is no freedom of worship. Nobody stops you from preaching Christ. Nobody stops you from preaching Islam.

I and my colleagues have gone around and seen the destruction that happened especially on Nov. 28, 2008. It was a really terrible thing that happened when Christians and Muslims clashed and destroyed lives and properties. What I suggest is the government and the community leaders--both Muslims and Christians--have to come together to address this issue of indigene-ship because when the Muslims say they want to control [the government], it is going to be impossible.

Q: Ethnic Hausas, Muslims by religion, have lived in the central Nigerian city of Jos for generations but are not permitted to take part in government.

A: The government should give [the Hausas] their own share [in governing] because they have been there for a long time. It is a sin like it was in South Africa, really. The Hausas settled there a long time ago but [there were existing residents], indigenes there. It is a question of politics really, rather than religion.

Many have been traumatized. I have interviewed, personally, pastors and their spouses and you see how terrifying it was. There is a need for trauma healing workshops, seminars, especially in the northeastern zone around the Maiduguri area, even [with] Muslims and Christians--because trauma is all around. It’s not just one side. The effect, it’s terrible.

Source: 1/14/2010 Newsline

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