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Muslim-Christian Violence in Nigeria - Archbishop Ben Kwashi

Muslim-Christian Violence in Nigeria

By The Most Rev. Dr. Benjamin Kwashi
January 22, 2012

The Anglican Archbishop of Jos delivered the following lecture to the Westminster Institute in McLean, Virginia. Mary Ann Mueller transcribed it for Virtue Online (www.virtueonline.org) Archbishop Ben Kwashi is one of the most well-known and respected advocates for the Persecuted Church in Nigeria.

Twice (in Feb. 2006 & July 2007), he has been the victim of attempts on his own life; his wife Gloria was badly beaten in one [2006] of those attempts. In 1987 his church and vicarage were burned down in Christian-Muslim riots.

In my growing days we saw the potential that there was in this country [Nigeria] ... tremendous. The opportunities, up to today, are limitless. I mean, the opportunities in the rest of the world are narrow. But the opportunities in Nigeria is still very broad, and big, and wide for economic growth, for intellectual growth, for manpower development, for any good that can come to humanity there in Nigeria. Nigeria has just a heart for that. It is estimated that today there is 167 million in this country [Nigeria] in more than 400 autonomous kingdoms, autonomous languages, and they have since Independence [Oct. 1, 1960] managed to come together, except for the intervention of military coups that took over from the heirless civilian regime in 1966 and since then, for nearly 30 years, Nigeria knew nothing but military rule.

It is from that period that, I think, we began to see some of the seeds sown for the crisis that Nigeria now faces.

If you take a city like Jos, I come from Plateau State, [one of 36 states]. I was born and raised in [Amper] the north of Nigeria. I went to a Nigerian Military School.

With most Nigerians, from every state of the country, we didn't know what we now know. We worked, lived, grew up together as Nigerians ... same people and we looked forward to building Nigeria. That was how we grew up. And Jos, in particular, was a home for everybody. Jos is situated on the north center part of Nigeria, a little over four thousand feet [4,062] above sea level, so it gets a wonderful climate all year around. Jos grows Irish potatoes - which we call "Jos potatoes" and we are the main exporter of that potato throughout the country. Jos climate grows anything ... anything ... you name it. Even if Americans would go to Jos and plant themselves, they will grow.

It grows strawberries, it grows anything, literally anything ... all the vegetables in the country -- apples and all grows in Jos. And Jos is sitting on a wealthy belt of water, so agriculture has a good production annually for Plateau State.

The earliest settlers amongst the local communities were foreigners - expatriates. They came for mining. And then, of course, other Nigerians came, and the hospitality of the people on the [Jos] Plateau received everybody. And everyone was free to practice their religion in Jos.

The military regimes there seem to be a seed sown of inequality. And once people begin to question equity and justice they begin not to trust any more. And I think that was the beginning, because it was in the era of military regimes that we began to see a little tilt in the Islam that we know. We've always lived with Muslims, we've always ate and drunk and attended one another's parties together. But in the military regime there was a growing seed of Islamic theology that was shifting towards hatred and was being taught to young people in young Qur'anic schools that people did not take notice of.

I did, and probably that is one of the reasons of why they wanted to kill me, because in 1987 my house and [St. Andrew's] church was burnt along with another 100 churches for no reason in Zaria [Nigeria]. The military regime did nothing. Subsequently Jos did nothing.

This band of young growing theology of Islam, which had at its core, the hatred for the Christian religion and anything Western was growing. Little-by-little it developed into a violent movement looking for "soft" targets. Western media did not help it, because rather than recognizing the soft targets they were saying it was "Christian-Muslim clash". You better check right.

Of course, in the Third World, we are generally voiceless: we don't have media, nobody hears our side of the truth, and nobody wants to hear any way for other reasons -- exigencies and expediencies and politics. But lives were being lost. And for that same reason, we have what we have today in Nigeria, because we have refused to own up to the truth that the "soft target" was the [Christian] Church.

Many times, because of the erroneous theology that was sown by this little Islamic school, it was said that the Christians were agencies of the West. Now they were not ready to accept that Christians were authentically Christians on their own, capable of their own decisions. They saw the Church as a little agent of the West.

"Lo and behold," as the King James Version would say, neither was the West ready to own up to the Christians who were suffering also in the north [Nigeria]. So it went on, and on, and on ...

Politics came in 1998. And that even became more oblivious at that time. Because some of those who were young primer school kids became governors and legislators and went on with this kind of theology, of course, walking into the political arena it was easy for them to demand for Sharia [Islamic-ruled] states.

The questions with that are: That if you declare a religious state what happened to other religious minorities? And I don't think the Nigerian government has been able to answer that yet.

People thought this was merely going to be a phase, a passing phase, but it when on and what began like a joke and a demand for Sharia state has led to the point where this [Islamic] sect [Boko Haram] is actually asking in some parts of northern Nigeria that Christians should leave as a whole.

I don't think this sect of theology merely asks - sometimes the Nigerian politicians want to characterize them as illiterates and misguided youths.

We don't manufacture the kind of arms that they're using. These arms come from (other) places, and I think sooner the better for everybody if the Western world would look at where these arms come from, because these arms are helping an erroneous theology. The Muslims who would disagree with them are not safe either, because there are leading, good Muslim people -- and they are in the majority, by the way, they are in the majority - but they are not safe.

So by the time [President] Goodluck [Jonathan] now wins elections, we see yet another wave of the rejection of non-Islamic liturgy. Even the Muslim leaders, who try to speak against them, many have lost their lives.

I know that two years ago an aircraft, loaded with 18 crates of armaments and different kinds of weapons, landed in Kanam. We never heard what happened to that aircraft. About a year ago, a shipload of arms was arrested in Lagos from Iran. Again, I am not so sure I know what happened to that. I also know another aircraft - a Saudi aircraft -- was arrested, with military uniforms, in Lagos. Where are these things coming from? Who's responsible?

I don't believe much of Facebook stories, but there was a Facebook story last week that showed a British businessman who was importing arms into Nigeria illegally.

If there is anything I want to say to the West is that here is a nation [Nigeria] that can be so useful to humanity. Here is a nation with so much great potential -- in every way - whether in Islamic or Christian religion, in technology and sciences, in every way can be a tool of blessing ... To destroy it will do nobody an good.

I met a missionary, recently here, who said she has been to Africa and she has been going to Africa for 21 years. And I said: "Where have you been in Africa?" And she says she has been going to Uganda for 21 years. I said: "Well, no you have not been to Africa until you go to Nigeria.

Anybody you know, who thinks he knows Africa, ask him: "Have you been to Nigeria?" It is the one nation on earth that does things ingeniously different.

I have, even myself, am afraid sometimes of Nigerians, to be honest. I am, because they are so brilliant a people -- brilliant in every way.

I find that these days are days of opportunity in Nigeria. Why do I say so? These are the times to help solve the problems not increase them because Nigerian right now, 70% of them, are under 35 years. It is a young nation. So if it is channeled correctly, Boom [generation] will be a blessing to the world.

I have made a resolution, as long as I live -- that I have found that Nigeria is said to be a very corrupt country, and to be honest there is quite wonderful corruption going on such that, you don't hear anywhere, nor you want, not even the moon. But I have also found that because of their corruption, they don't trust one another. So I believe God has given me a good business - to raise young, honest people. That's what I do now.

In the church, if your phone drops in the church, believe me, in my church, you will find it. I have been doing that for a few years, and it has worked. And so business people, honest business people, and even the dishonest ones sometimes phone me: "Ben, do you have an honest kid who can manage my business?"

A South African businessman heard about me from somebody else who has been doing business in Jos and he's a South African, so he called me from South Africa and said: "Look, I want to do some oil business, I've been duped many times, but can you link me up with some honest Nigerians?" I said: "Sure, there are."

That is how to build a people. That is how to invest in a nation, and I am doing just that. There are so many orphans in Jos in particular. There's much good to be done. There is so much poverty and hunger in the midst of plenty. There's so much good to be done.

The politicians, themselves, need honest guidance. One of my arguments about their corruption is, I don't think they are only corrupt as Nigerians but the people who collect their monies and keeping their bounties [security forces] are equally corrupt. In fact are bigger thieves. Because if you know he is taking on monies that belong to people make sure he takes it back. Because I know that a lot of the monies that have disappeared belonging to Nigeria -- they are not in the streets of Nigeria. Where are they?

It is part of these things that fuel the anger that gets embedded into a theology of hate, because the basic capitalism of the epitome of this kind of irreligiousness and evil. And they think the Church is a channel of that. I'm struggling to prove to them that's not the case, but that is a huge struggle because as long as they continue to get arms - as long as nobody sees the truth and says it - so long will this evil will continue.

I have hope. I have hope because in what I do I have faith, and I know that America wasn't built in one day. It was built by the sacrifice of some people. And my hope is in the sacrifice that I can make for the future generations. It's not just me, there are many people too, who are talking to one another, not only in my generation but even in the younger generation. They're not allowing just anything go by, but that we should keep talking and praying and trusting and making the necessary sacrifices to build a nation. Let me end by saying there is much to gain in the future of Nigeria collectively.

The world is a puzzle game, and it would seem that if one piece of the puzzle is missing the puzzle is incomplete. Nigeria has a place like that in the world.

I want to appeal to all of us to give good meaning, well meaning, well wishing and act positively while we can.

I have some businessmen from the US in Nigeria, many of them. These days flights from Lagos [Nigeria] that comes to the States every day are nearly four or five and therefore Nigerian and American businessmen ... Continental goes to Houston, Delta goes to Atlanta, United goes to New York, all from Lagos, and Arik [Air] also goes to New York. That's not to mention British Air and Virgin [Atlantic Airways] also, that are always full.

And I said to myself: "Oh, I pray that all these people, in all their thoughts and actions chose the stand for truth and justice and freedom of religion for all people. How great Nigeria would be and be a model of Sub-Saharan Africa."

Thank you.

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