MEETING OF SOME CATHOLIC BISHOPS/PRIESTS OVER THE JUKUN-TIV CRISIS
An Address by Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama, Apostolic Administrator of Jos Arcdiocese and Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja, 08.10.2019.
I welcome you very warmly to the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre, Jos, a Centre, established in 2011 to provide a neutral space for dialogue as a contribution towards peace building efforts in Plateau State. To the glory of God, a number of successful interventions have taken place and still take place here: Muslim/Christian stakeholders’ meetings, meetings of ethnic groups in conflict, Religious and community leaders’ quarterly meetings, proactive dialogue with politicians, security agents, youths, women, peace education involving youths, etc.
Today, divine providence has brought some of us Bishops and Priests especially from the areas affected by the Jukun-Tiv crisis to brainstorm and to deliberate on how as Catholic clergy and fathers of all, irrespective of ethnic affiliations, we can help to minimize or to inspire our people to completely stop the atrocities unleashed on innocent people. I am aware that individual Priests and Bishops have done so much in this regard. By virtue of our calling and training, we have the capacity to reflect objectively about issues such as tensed inter-ethnic relationships and conflicts which have very unpleasant consequences.
I appreciate the role played by the Catholic Bishops of the Abuja and Jos Ecclesiastical Provinces in convening this meeting to talk to ourselves as Catholic Priests, since our work puts us at a vantage position of being in direct contact with our people at the grassroots. When our people suffer, we too suffer in many ways with them and when they remain in a state of constant distress we know that it affects how we can minister to them spiritually and pastorally.
As Catholic priests, we are fortunate to have our people’s confidence and we can play a very significant role in making them realize that polarization along ethnic lines causes retrogression in all ramifications and it also contradicts the very essence of Christian unity (cf. Eph 4:4-5).
Your Excellencies and my dear brother priests, I appreciate your sacrifices in making this meeting a reality. It is the fruit of the following consultations:
Between the 5th and 6th of September, telephoning from Owerri and Elele, PortHarcourt, I reached out to Bishop Charles Hammawa of Jalingo, Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, Bishop Matthew Audu of Lafia, Bishop Michael Apochi of Otukpo and Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi, suggesting that we should be seen and heard to be doing something about the ongoing Jukun-Tiv crisis leading to deaths, including that of a Priest. They all agreed that it was very necessary. On the 12th of September, Bishops of Jos and Abuja Ecclesiastical Provinces met in Abeokuta, Ogun State, during the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and again on the 13th, the Bishops met with some Priest delegates from Abuja and Jos Provinces who were attending the special meeting of Priests called by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). On the 16th of September, the Bishops of Abuja and Jos Provinces met again and took the decision to hold a meeting in Jos on the 8th of October at the DREP Centre, for Priest and Bishop delegates. It was suggested that Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese, with his vast knowledge and experience as a reconciler, a social crusader, a justice and peace advocate and above all, as a Priest steeped in the social teachings of the Catholic Church, could facilitate the fraternal meeting. Bishop Kukah kindly accepted this request. Many profound thanks to him for accepting. Happy 67th birthday Bishop Kukah!
It is very embarrassing and indeed disappointing that our people, most of whom profess Christianity can take up arms against one another and commit atrocities against one another on account of tribal differences or in the name of the struggle for economic or political control.
We as Priests are called to endeavour to remain neutral, non partisan and to teach our people the merits and benefits of forgiveness, reconciliation, and resolving differences through genuine dialogue. We need to firmly resist the temptation of taking as real what could be distorted historical narratives, mere prejudices, blackmail or fabricated stories that have no bearing with reality but which severely strain relationships.
It will be a monumental pastoral tragedy if Bishops henceforth resort to posting Priests based on ethnic affiliation. We must recall the tragedy of the Rwandan experience where even some Priests, religious and laity were said to have forgotten about their Christian calling and for ethnic reasons, allowed fellow citizens to be killed or maimed simply because they belonged to the opposite ethnic group.
We know how inter-ethnic clashes in our region have erupted and affected Idoma-Tiv- Igala- Ogoja- Jukun – Kuteb-Alago, Eggon, Agatu and even Agila in Benue and Ngbo in Ebonyi States. These recurring conflicts are always mostly over land matters.
The government should kindly employ the services of historians, anthropologists, security agents, boundary demarcation experts, constitutional experts, neutral international bodies (ECOWAS AU, UN), etc, to resolve the claims and counter claims that refuse to allow peace to reign. The government should also be more proactive by meaningfully engaging the young people whose idleness is also a major cause of the conflicts.
May our reflections here today bear the positive social fruits of unity and peace. As we reflect and pray for peaceful coexistence, we call on the government at all levels to be more determined to meet its obligation of caring for the poor who fight one another not because they hate themselves, but because of the compelling force of poverty, worsened by the inequitable distribution of resources.
May the grace and peace of God our Father abide with our people now and forever.
I wish us all happy and fruitful deliberations. Welcome