… Says killing is barbaric, evil
Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The Bishop of Maiduguri Diocese, Anglican Communion Nigeria, Rev Emmanuel Morris, has canvassed for a return to the old way of co-habitation and relationship between the farmers and herdsmen as panacea to the current farmers/herdsmen crisis in the country.
Bishop Morris in this interview with Sunday Sun in Maiduguri said that farmers and herders in the country were known to have lived together for decades without conflict. He, therefore, expressed concern about the increasing violence involving herdsmen, wondering if those behind these violent acts were actually herdsmen known in the northern part of the country. “Are we really sure those people perpetrating these violent acts are actually herdsmen or something else?” he asked.
He also said that only forgiveness can permanently heal the wound created by eight years of Boko Haram insurgency. He spoke on conflicts in other places, including Borno and how Nigerians should respond to them. Excerpt:
The herdsmen/farmers’ conflict is increasingly becoming another threat to Nigerian unity and peace. From your experience as a priest and northerner, what do you think is the problem and what’s the way forward?
As for me, I have mixed feelings when they say herdsmen. When we are talking about herdsmen, please let us define what herdsmen mean and who the herdsmen are in the Nigerian context. Are we really sure those people perpetrating these violent acts are actually herdsmen or something else? Herdsmen in the early Nigerian context are Fulani people that carry sticks and follow their cows and control them, not even to touch the cows or any person with the sticks. But in this case, when you see a so-called herdsman carrying AK47 rifle and you call them herdsmen, I think we are missing the fact. Or is it because we see them following cows that we qualify them as herdsmen? Well, you may be right to call them herdsmen when you see them with cows around, but what will you call them again when you see them carrying AK 47? So, we must define that to really know how we talk about these people as herdsmen. I am not saying that those people perpetrating such evils are herdsmen or not, but let us define them in the Nigerian context.
But is there any connection between the crisis, politics or religion?
You see, when some people talk about herdsmen and relate it to religion, it is very unfortunate. As a priest and bishop, I don’t think the issue of herdsmen has something to do with religion or politics. I learnt reliably that the local herdsmen that have existed before can even go to other herdsmen, carry their cows and add to their own and move away with it; and remember, all of them are in the same religion. So, that one we cannot typically say is a religion issue. Although some people will manufacture it to mean something else, but we are looking critically into what is happening nowadays. So, these people are different types of people with some motives that we have to sit down and look at it in another dimension. But definitely, I strongly condemn whatever has to do with killing. Church cannot support that in any way. So, the killings that are going on, whether the farmers are killing the herdsmen, or the herdsmen are the one killing the farmers, is unacceptable, because killing is barbaric, it is evil, it is not only wrong, but it is a sin, and it’s not supposed to be. As is written in the Bible, in Exodus Chapter 20; “though shall not kill.” So, I condemn that in its totality.
What do you thing the government should do, especially with the controversy trailing the grazing law?
Government at all levels should live up to their responsibilities of protecting lives and property of citizens. Let them come up with what they are expected to do. Every government in every country or state is established on the basis of providing security and protection of the citizenry. So, let the government wake up from its slumber and find a way of protecting its people to see that the farmers are adequately protected from the herdsmen attacks or the herdsmen in terms of retaliation. Government must be in between and stop this madness.
But government is already acting with the decision to create cattle colonies?
How have we been living before? We have been living with herdsmen in peace in the country before. Can we go back to the traditional way of living please? We have been living with Fulani and herdsmen every day or every time. Let us say the reality, we need the cattle too, and the herdsmen need food to drive their cattle. You understand that these farmers also eat meat. Is this not true? The herdsmen also eat food. So, the issue is just a matter of understanding. Is it the first time we are seeing a herdsman? We have been living together as I said. Herdsmen have been in Nigeria for ages and we have been living together, so let us go back to the old tradition, where you see people farming and the herdsmen also busy controlling their animals for grazing in same environment without chaos.
Coming back to Borno State, the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes have not manifested though the state is still struggling with another security challenge. What have you observed since your arrival in the state, especially between the two major religions? Are there signs the insurgency is motivated or still driven by religious intolerance?
The situation in Borno is far from religion. Anybody following media reports, especially on social media may assume the Boko Haram issue is religiously motivated as you put it. Though in the beginning, it may have the coloration of religious sentiment, but the crisis is more a security challenge brought about by social problem. We must learn from the crisis and each state should do what is expected to avert such crisis. It has taken the state back and my coming here few months ago has given me a better understanding of the violence. I understand better now because I am here. You can’t understand the crisis well except you’re here. If you view and read about it from outside the state, you won’t know the magnitude of the crisis in the state, North-east, Nigeria and humanity as a whole. For me, I will contribute my quota to the building of peace here because the people of this area have suffered. The church is affected, and the economy is in shambles.
I am an Ambassador of peace and I have the duty to preach and advocate for peace. I can also continue to talk to the Muslim and Christian community on the need to live in peace. I am a leader, and I am not here only for the Christians, my position as a bishop is an institution that has influence on the society. I have been passing across the need to be peaceful. In fact, the first message on the day of my enthronement was entitled; “Peace is the pillar of live”, and so, that is the most important thing we should do in the society. When we talk about peace, we are not talking about religion. In Islam they say Asallamalaikum, what does that mean? In Christianity we say, “Peace be unto you”, what does that mean or suggest to us? And in Judaism they say “Shalom,” which is peace, so peace is a concept of life and not that something, which is attracted to religion, but a concept of life that has to do with humanity. And even as a Muslim, if you are to say Assalamalaikum, is not only to your fellow Muslim, is to anybody you see around you that such person should have peace, meaning you are praying for that person to have peace and you want him/her to exist. So, the same thing in these religions that I have mentioned earlier, peace is something that is very important, and honesty, I must tell you that I am really impressed when I came to Borno State and saw both Muslims and Christians go to the same fueling stations, recreation centres, markets, we use the same highways, we eat food in the same restaurants, we use the same hotels, banks, we do almost everything together. And so, how can you wake up and tell me that Borno is not peaceful. This state has been a peaceful state until 2009 or thereabout when the issue of Boko Haram came up, so let us identify that something has gone wrong and let us address it irrespective of religion, ethnic or political inclination, let us see ourselves as our brother’s keepers, you are a media man, and when we go into history, the first three places of worship that were burnt were churches, but the last three places that were burnt down were mosque, you realize that, so this insurgency crisis affected both Muslims and Christians. So, it is something that has come to disorganize us, and we should understand that and try to nip it in the bud collectively.
Some set of people; including Christians and Muslims, are coming to this Bishop’s Court to hold talks with me. We discuss ways of helping the government to promote peace and religions harmony within the society we operate. The government can also help us in terms of keeping to their promises. You know it’s another thing for the bishop to tell the people that the government will do this for them, and when the government does not act, it becomes something else. So, the government has to also look at the plights of the people, not just Muslims or Christians, but people who are existing, government should also assist us by giving everybody the opportunity to practice his/her religion without hindrance or policies that can affect one religion or the other. The issue of saying that people should not go to Mosque or Church because of insecurity should not arise, because the people are always praying for peace and the government to succeed. So, in another sense, when we are in the Mosque or Church, we pray and things happen differently, so my appeal to the government is to always provide security to its people, be it in mosques and churches, or any place of worship.
What are your expectations from the state government with what you’ve seen in the state after eight years of violence?
First I want people to understand the need to work in the direction of peace. Let us understand that something has gone wrong, not necessarily condemning issues or shifting blames, but let us identify where our problem is and solve it. To the insurgents, we must have a campaign to appeal to them to lay down their arms because killings and destruction of property of innocent citizens are not the ideal thing. We must constantly appeal to the insurgents to drop their arms and join us in the part of peace. They are our brothers and sisters, and so, as we have been living peacefully together, let us continue to live in peace, that is my candid appeal to everybody, because peace is a necessity. This is my cry and appeal to everybody. Then my appeal to people that might have been hurt in the course of this insurgency is to open up a kind of forgiveness, let us put behind what has happened and let us forge ahead, because without forgiveness, we can never progress, and so, we need absolute peace. For the government, issues of injustice in the system should be addressed. Government must ensure it caters for the people.
Thousands of people have been displaced, orphaned and loved ones lost; so the solution to this lies in forgiveness, but government must help the people to forgive by providing social needs. Schools must work, health facilities must be functional and food must be available. Government must drive agriculture and provide employment opportunities for the youths because I understand unemployment is one of the reasons many of the youths joined the Boko Haram.