Monday, May 16, 2011

An update from Nigeria: Brethren again affected by violence.

Nigeria mission staff Nathan and Jennifer Hosler have provided the following update on post-election violence in Nigeria and how it has affected Brethren congregations there, and how Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) is responding. The Hoslers are teaching at EYN’s Kulp Bible College and working with the EYN Peace Program:

Horrific headlines yet again feature violence in northern Nigeria. While this violence was ignited by presidential election results, longstanding issues are involved.

Nigeria held a presidential election on April 16. The winner, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian southerner. A Muslim northern candidate, General Buhari, won in the north. Goodluck Jonathan was able to get at least 25 percent of the vote in northern states and he held the entire south.

Many Muslim supporters in the north were certain that because they supported Buhari he was sure to win. When Buhari lost, rioting erupted all across northern cities: Maiduguri, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Gombe, Yola, and more. Small Mubi and Michika (towns close to Kulp Bible College and EYN Headquarters) also experienced violence. There was an allegation of corruption by the loser but all the international observers concurred that the election was relatively free and fair (a huge step for Nigeria).

In total, five EYN churches were attacked. Four were burnt in Biu and one damaged in Kaduna. Other denominations were also affected; the targets of attack were anything Christian, or Muslim supporters of the Christian candidate.

There is long-standing intolerance in Nigeria. Divisions are often north/south but predominantly along religious lines. Both southern and northern Christians were attacked in the north. The issue is power--which religion has it--and to a slightly lesser extent, which regional or ethnic group is in control. Many northern Muslims think northern Muslims should be in charge of the country.

Poverty and lack of education are also factors. The north is extremely underdeveloped compared to the south and there are large amounts of jobless, unemployed young men with little education. These factors create a tinderbox which can ignite a fire at the slightest provocation. In this case, the election set off the current round of violence.

In the aftermath of the violence, EYN will press forward. Much of its ministry will continue as normal, while also picking up the pieces, rebuilding, and trying to heal from the trauma of burnt homes, shops, and churches. With the crisis reaching new places that had never experienced violence (Mubi, Michika), it makes one wonder how far reaching the next crisis will be. We have heard people say, "How can this happen in little Michika, a fairly small community that hasn’t experience violence?"

Encouraging events in Michika include a unified response. There were no revenge attacks in Michika. Community elders were able to stop people from retaliating. In Michika, Christians also are finding nonviolent ways of expressing their displeasure with the violence, organizing a community boycott of a specific market day.

While prevention work can be done, the long-term circumstances of the conflict have not changed. The next crisis could be just around the corner. Yet the church is not standing still, waiting for crisis to break out. Jesus commanded his followers to be "as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16, KJV). Peace work will press forward, cautiously. Trust has been broken--and there was not much trust between Muslim and Christian communities to begin with. A needed initiative is a conflict monitoring system, a communication structure in place that involves paying heed to warning signs, rumors, and alerting authorities before violence occurs.

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