How Religion Is Dividing Nigeria – Rev Para-Mallam
In this interview with AMOS TAUNA for New NIgerian, Reverend Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam Global Mission Leader, Peace & Social Justice Advocate; and President & CEO – The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation emphasised in speaking the truth to each other through dialogue among the various warring factions in Southern Kaduna with a view to coming to a round table to iron out grey areas that require amendments for better understanding and peaceful co-existence in the area. He said that it is better to be divided by the truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills. Excerpts:
What prompted you into the Southern Kaduna peace summit?
An excellent question indeed, what prompted me/actually our Peace Foundation? Religion has remained a trigger for negative manipulation. Yet, religion can play a positively transformative role in what is happening not just in Southern Kaduna but Nigeria. Religion plays such a strong role in Nigeria’s identity and without doubt, it has been and still is being manipulated by politicians and some community leaders to divide our people. Through inter-religious dialogue and peacebuilding, we want to amplify voices of truth, justice, and peace; to develop a balanced narrative which seeks an end to the on-going attacks in Southern Kaduna communities.
It is absolutely critical to reduce inter-religious tensions as a way of bringing down the level of violence in Southern Kaduna. Southern Kaduna people are some of the most peace loving, easy going and hospitable people, among the best that I know of in Nigeria and Africa. Southern Kaduna people have embraced diversity but has also totally rejected any form of subtle or overt subjugation.
Helping our people Christians and Muslims alike, to manage this diversity reality is one of the goals one hopes to achieve. Kaduna State’s population is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Southern Kaduna is home to predominantly Christian communities where the wave of violent attacks has increased since April 2020. Majority of our people want to live in peace.
Our intervention in partnership with the British High Commission is designed to promote religious harmony and sustainable peace.
Why involving the youth, women and stakeholders in three different meetings of the peace meeting?
This is a significant question. Most times when peace meetings are convened, the Elders always are giving priority in terms of participation.
They are seen and have in fact been considered to be the major players in the peace process. However, the after results haven’t quite validated such assumptions. Yes, the elders have a major role to play but we need to look at other critical stakeholders that have long been ignored. These are women and youth.
These two critical stakeholders should be left out both in the peace process and also setting up Committees and Commissions both at the Local and State government levels, this is principle we seek to uphold and encourage. I am not talking tokenism here but intentional two-prong approach here: engagement and involvement.
First, the youth are mostly at the forefront during these crises and in fact used in perpetuating some these attackers. So, they are active players in the negative. We need to transform them into positive active players for sustainable peace. Second, these some of these youth are beginning to lose patience with the elders and leaders, and this is weakening the influence of elders in the community.
We need to act fast to arrest this dangerous trend in which the elders are made to be afraid of the youth. Then as for the women, they are critical stakeholders who sadly have been along with children the worst victims of these attacks and violence.
They are the most vulnerable. Sadly, they have long been overlooked, side-lined, and made voiceless along with children. Don’t forget this fact, the biggest influence on our children at their formative stages of life are women, their mothers.
These children will grow up to become the youth of tomorrow. Now women buy into the vision of peace building, can you see that they won’t just influence themselves by our children? Can you imagine the advantage this will be to society if our children grow up as peace agents and makers?
So, you can without doubt, see the potential important role women can play in the peacebuilding process if they are strategically involved? But we also saw a need, don’t just involve women but be strategic about their involvement especially in the area of building their confidene and capacity.
So, we set out to pursue achieving wholesome results using a three-fold strategy: Roundtable dialogues/Workshops. Targeting the Youth and Grassroot Mobilization – which held on February 11th, 2021. Then followed by Women Confidence and Capacity Building on the 12th, and the third for Religious, Traditional and Political/Community leaders on March 2nd, 2021. In the last Roundtable, we invited some youth and women representatives to interact with the fathers. It was beautiful.
We pray for effective result by way of impact. These are just the beginning steps as this was only a 3-month Pilot Project.
What do you learn in the various meetings held with the different groups in Southern Kaduna towards ensuring peaceful coexistence in the area?
Dialogue and restorative justice are sure pathways to inter-religious harmony and peaceful coexistence. Therefore, we see a need and recommend that a Truth, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Commission be established for the people of Southern Kaduna.
This if done in honesty will most probably add value to peaceful coexistence and sustainable peace in Southern Kaduna, Kaduna State and Nigeria. I realised that the diverse religious and ethnic nationalities of Southern Kaduna genuinely want peace. People came to attend these roundtable dialogues even in the face of threats and safety to their lives.
The selected participants, Muslims and Christians, Women and Youth, Traditional, Religious and Community leaders from the 4 Local government areas: Jaba, Jema’a, Kajuru and Zango Kataf rom the urban, towns, rural and remote villages attended against all odds and stayed from beginning to the end.
Most importantly they made very value contributions for peace. Some have even began implementing some aspects of the dialogue, recommended during the breakout sessions.
The Kaduna State Peace Commission was well represented, and the Governor graciously sent the Commissioner for Homeland Security to be part of those who contributed thoughts. SOKAPU was represented and other groups as time won’t allow me mention all by name. I learnt that peace is possible in Southern Kaduna. Let’s give peace and justice a chance.
Any plans for another peace meeting to continue with where you stop?
Yes, there are plans. We have plans for further meetings if the resources are available. We have already received calls already to this effect. As you are aware, this is a Pilot Peace Project which means it is just the beginning, it is almost like a test run.
The success recorded in this Pilot Peace Project phase will lay the groundwork for further community and; we hope a State-wide engagement which will mostly likely involve more Local Government Areas across Southern Kaduna and the State. Who knows? Maybe across the Middle Belt and the Northern States? Ambitious one may sound but in truth the North literally lies in ruins today. Without peace, the north is finished. Without peace, religion itself will be under threat. Let’s act to avert such.
What call do you have for other groups towards ensuring sustainable peace in S.Kaduna?
As I appealed above, let’s act together. Solo efforts by only Christians in the search for peace will be self-limiting. Similarly, solo efforts by Muslims in the search for peace will only be an exercise in Muslims talking to Muslims and hearing only their voices. We need to admit this fact people are hurting across lines in Southern Kaduna: religious and ethnic.
We need genuine joint efforts by all ethnic nationalities including the Hausas and Fulanis to find peace for all in Southern Kaduna, Kaduna and Nigeria. There is a need to put self-interest aside and forge ahead with seeking the common good. Above all, the people must be our collective priority.
We must think about the victims: innocent women, children and men who were killed and displaced from their ancestral homelands, their education disrupted, and sources of livelihood forcefully taken from them or destroyed.
My peace work has revealed that all groups have suffered: our indigenous people of Southern Kaduna and also the Hausas and Fulanis. All groups have casualties in human lives and property. We need to all acknowledge this fact and act to restore confidence and trust. Together let’s aim to make a positive impact for sustainable peace in Southern Kaduna.
How would you describe the presence & contribution of Comrade Dr Silas Adamu, the President, Atyap Community Development Association & later died in a ghastly motor accident together with his wife and daughter in the peace process?
The late Dr. Silas Adamu’s parting words were: ‘Let’s join hands and work for peace in Southern Kaduna.’ Those precious words for peace were spoken at the end of the Religious, Traditional and Community leaders Roundtable dialogue held on March 2nd, 2021 in Kafanchan. Dr. Silas Adamu had walked up to the stage along with Dr. Zwaghu Bonat for pleasantries and goodbye, when whispered them to me.
When such a great man of peace, who did not know that exactly a week after saying while attending our Pilot Peace Project Roundtable, that death would come knocking on his door, you do not ignore it. You always remember those last words.
I must pause now and urge anyone reading this interview to pause and observe a minute’s silence in memory of this beloved son of Southern Kaduna. It’s so painful that the accident which claimed his life also took the life of his very beautiful calm and supportive wife and their gifted pretty and potentially resourceful daughter.
We mourn them deeply and for their sake, we need to join hands irrespective of ethnicity and religion and give peace a chance in SK. He used his gifts, talents, resources, and position as a Union Activists to promote peace in SK particularly Zango Kataf Local Government. May his labour not be in vain. His parting words would remain with me for a long time.
You can only imagine how I felt, receiving a message one week later, informing me of his departure to glory. I reached out to Dr. Zwaghu who was devastated by the news. Such is life. May His gentle soul rest in peace and may we honor his memory by working and walking the talk of peace.
How Religion Is Dividing Nigeria – Rev Para-Mallam