Violence in Nigeria Causes Concern at Mission Agency
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, March 16, 2010--The head of the United Methodist mission agency has appealed for prayer and action to stem new outbreaks of violence among ethnic and religious groups in central Nigeria.
Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, issued the appeal on March 16. He expressed deep concern, especially since many analysts see competition between Muslims and Christians as a primary cause.
"Ethnic, economic, cultural, and religious issues seem to coalesce in the present violence in Nigeria," he said in a public statement (see below).
Mission agency contacts in Nigeria have confirmed the reports of mass slaughter during the second week of March in the Jos vicinity of Plateau State in central Nigeria. Several hundred Christians were killed by attackers alleged to be Muslim. There are United Methodist churches in the Jos area.
"We have heard of no loss of life with our communities, but we are nonetheless in prayer, not only for the continuing safety of United Methodists but also for peace for all the people of Nigeria," Kemper said. He expressed solidarity with the families of victims in the latest attacks for "all those who are living in terror."
The mission executive explained that the conflict in Plateau State is often traced to colonial days when the Hausa-Falani people, most of whom are Muslim, were brought into the region to work in mines. The indigenous people were mostly Christian.
The 149 million people in Nigeria are today about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, the former in the south and the latter in the north. There are some 400,000 United Methodists in Nigeria, located in the southern and central areas. The population is mixed by ethnicity and religion in the central area. Outbreaks of violence have occurred periodically in the region.
Kemper called upon all United Methodists "to join us in prayer for a cessation of the current violence…and for urgent measures that can lead to permanent peace. Pray also that our United Methodist Church in Nigeria will continue to be an instrument of peace."
The full text of Kemper's statement on Nigeria follows:
We at the General Board of Global Ministries are deeply concerned about reports of new outbreaks of violence in Nigeria, especially since some observers see Christian-Muslim differences as being among the primary causes.
Recent mass slaughters have occurred in central Nigeria, in the Jos region of Plateau State, an area with a United Methodist presence. We have heard of no loss of life within our communities but we are nonetheless in prayer, not only for the continuing safety of United Methodists but also for peace among all of the people of Nigeria.
The country has some 400,000 United Methodists, according to 2008 statistics. Global Ministries has a long history of evangelism, medical missions, and education in Nigeria. Our missionaries there serve in collaboration with indigenous United Methodist leaders.
The conflict in Plateau can be traced to colonial times when Europeans brought Hausa-Fulani people from the north to work mines in that mineral-rich region. Most of these people were Muslim, while the indigenous people of Plateau were Christian. Today, the 149 million people of Nigeria are about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, with Muslims generally in the north and Christians in the south. The Plateau now has a mixed religious population.
Violent episodes in Plateau occurred in the 1990s, the early years of the current century, and began again this year in January, escalating in early March. One analysis sees the bloodshed emerging from an attempt of the Hausa-Fulani to gain control of the state government and annex Plateau to Hausaland, a traditional territory that includes seven Nigerian states. The control of fertile land is also a factor in the situation.
Ethnic, economic, cultural, and religious issues seem to coalesce in the present Nigeria violence. Ecumenical News International (ENI) reports that one leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria attributes the cause solely to religion, while another is more inclined to see ethnic and cultural differences at work. These assessments followed the early March slaughter of several hundred Christians, including women and children.
The General Board of Global Ministries expresses its solidarity with the families of the victims and with all of those who are living in terror. We join in their pain and grief.
Global Ministries urges all United Methodists to join us in prayer for a cessation of the current violence in central Nigeria and for urgent measures that can lead to permanent peace. Pray also that our United Methodist Church in Nigeria will continue to be an instrument of peace.
Elliott Wright is an author and consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Mar 16, 2010