Muslim and Catholic Clerics Pursue Strategy with Retired Army Chief, Foreign Minister and Others
By: Fred Strasser
Nigeria’s Roman Catholic cardinal urges his flock to embrace diversity. The spiritual leader of the country’s Muslims leads efforts to prevent radicalization and condemns Boko Haram. A former United Nations envoy advocates for professionalism among civil servants. A retired army chief of staff presses for the government to reach out more to alienated groups. These leaders and seven other prominent figures form a new high-level advisory group helping northern Nigeria’s powerful state governors address the social, religious and political forces that fuel extremist violence.
There is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter.
Other members of the senior working group include former Chief of Defense Staff and Chief of Army Staff General Martin Luther Agwai, who led the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and last year headed a committee investigating violence in Kaduna state; Ibrahim Gambari, a former minister of foreign affairs and U.N. under-secretary-general who now heads the Savannah Center for Diplomacy, Democracy and Developmen in Abuja; Fatima Balla Abubakar, a well-known diplomat and politician; and Aisha Murtala Muhammed, the founder and chief executive of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, an organization that seeks to bolster business philanthropy throughout Nigeria and Africa.
“The working group aims to expand the conversation from ‘poverty is a cause of conflict’ to thinking practically and strategically,” said Oge Onugobu, a USIP senior program officer for Africa. “For example, where do you locate a school so no one feels disadvantaged? Or does some group appear to have impunity from prosecution? These are things the group, with its deep expertise, can help governors to consider and plan for.”
A dozen of the northern governors met at USIP in October. They broadly concluded that ending the war and poverty plaguing their region requires initiatives for education, reconciliation and political inclusion of minorities and women. The working group is aimed at developing plans to address those needs and keeping the governors focused on implementing them.
A Microcosm of Nigeria
The Plateau State Peacebuilding Agency, a publicly-funded body under the governor’s office, was set up last year to reduce conflict in a state considered a microcosm of Nigeria for its social, ethnic and religious stresses. Over two decades, more than 5,000 people have died in communal violence in Plateau state, stalling economic development and shredding community trust.
The current governor determined that past crisis-oriented attempts to end the conflicts—from interfaith dialogues to citizen input to the use of security forces—were inadequate. The agency seeks to create institutional mechanisms for long-term peacebuilding, including conflict-resolution training, coordination among civil society groups and ongoing interfaith dialogue.
The working group’s efforts to advance stability in Nigeria remain urgent despite what President Muhammadu Buhari calls the”technical defeat” of Boko Haram, said Onubogu. The Cardinal said the same in his Christmas message, lauding Buhari’s efforts against the insurgency but saying, “It is not yet all over.”
“There is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter,” he said. “Religious communities and leaders must come out to play their role, which is often very efficient and very cost effective, in comparison with budgets for military action.”