During a meeting with a Living Letters team visiting Nigeria on behalf of the World Council of Churches, the governor of the Plateau state, Jonah David Jang, admits that “religion is used to cover up all conflicts, although other factors also exist”.
Jang, who is a minister of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), has been governor of the Plateau State for the past four years. Jos, the capital city of the state has seen one of the worst ethnic conflicts in recent years.
In March 2010, violence claimed more than hundred lives in the region of Jos. Most of those killed were Christians.
During the meeting, at which his deputy, Pauline Kedem Tallen and some members of his cabinet were in attendance, the governor said that Christianity and Islam had no reason to be at loggerheads.
Jang said he was "elated" when he heard that the WCC team was coming to visit the state. “Your coming shows people are praying for us all over the world and this gives me joy.”
Living Letters are small ecumenical teams visiting a country to listen, learn, share approaches and help to confront challenges in order to overcome violence, promote and pray for peace. One such team has been visiting Nigeria from 15-20 May 2010.
Jang said that his government had begun to take proactive steps to promote peace. "We have set up an inter-religious council of peace and harmony long before the crisis started. Right now we are adopting some other measures that we believe are yielding fruit presently," he said.
Archbishop Michael Kehinde Stephen of the Methodist Church in Nigeria and Bishop Dr Robert Aboagye-Mensah, vice-president of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and member of the WCC Central Committee, told the governor that the group had come on a solidarity visit to all who are suffering due to the conflicts and violence, irrespective of their religious identities.
Archbishop Stephen declared: "We believe that both the Christian and Muslim religions preach peace and are working for peace. We don't see any reason why there should be violence in this part of the country if there is tolerance among adherents of the two faiths."
He observed that the state had been bedevilled by several crises, noting however that religion has been used to cover other factors responsible from the incessant bloodletting in the state.
Stephen expressed the hope that the visit of the team would help bring about more unity and cooperation between the different faith communities.
He continued, “We are created by one God who gave us the right to be whatever we want to be. But one day has been appointed when we will account for all that we have done here on earth. We cannot decide for others the kind of faith they should adhere to. We can preach to people based on our beliefs but we cannot force anybody. The day is coming that we will all know who is right.”
The governor, who was quite forthcoming during the meeting, said he had observed that Christianity is going down in the western world. He also added that, “however, it is time for the African continent to take the gospel back to those who brought it”.
In responding to the governor’s statements, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Commission on International Affairs, spoke to him about WCC programmes related to peace and reconciliation, especially the Decade to Overcome Violence and the forthcoming International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011.
Representatives of the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), the umbrella organisation of the Protestant churches in the country, accompanied the team to the governor. The Living Letters team is composed of representatives of churches and WCC staff from Ghana, Kenya, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, India and Ethiopia.
Gbenga Osinaike, the publisher of the Church Times of Lagos, Nigeria, reporting from Jos