28.09.10 16:14 Age: 1 yrs

“Negative Solidarity”: a challenge to peace and development processes in Nigeria


Rev. Dr Johnson Mbillah speaks on the challenges that Nigeria currently faces at the World Council of Churches UN Advocacy Week, Monday 28 Sept. in Geneva, Switzerland.


By Aneth Lwakatare (*)


“We will not have the peace we are looking for if we continue to practice negative solidarity,” said the Rev. Dr Johnson Mbillah while addressing participants of the World Council of Churches (WCC) UN Advocacy Week on Tuesday 28 September.


For Mbillah, this “negative solidarity” manifests itself in ways that divide rather than unite Nigerians and impacts all levels of society including how people are elected to public office.


Mbillah, who is the general advisor to the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA), one of the pioneer interfaith organizations in Africa, was addressing the issue of ethno-religious politics in Nigeria during a session on Conflict and Violence in Nigeria.


The session also included Fr Matthew Kukah, a Catholic Priest and public affairs analyst, who talked about the impact of violent struggles over control of natural resources. Such struggles are a significant part of conflict and violence in Nigeria.


In southern Nigeria’s oil-rich delta region where there is high unemployment and poverty, there has been ongoing violence between the government and armed militias who have been disrupting oil production and conducting kidnappings for ransom.


In the northern Nigerian Plateau state, there has been violence based on land rights issues as well as ethnicity and religion.  Earlier in 2010, nearly 500 people were killed near the city of Jos.


Nigerians have grouped themselves based on religion, ethnicity or regional origin, thus creating different identities, Mbillah said. “The problem that we face in Nigeria is that we do not identify ourselves as all being Nigerian, but rather identify ourselves first by either the ethnicity to which we belong or which religion we practice.”


Ethno-religious politics have limited Nigerians’ freedom to be elected to office and have affected the right to vote for others, based on whether one is located outside his original state. In addition, he said, other unwritten understandings among Nigerians limit the political and social rights of groups.


It has become very difficult to categorize the conflicts in Nigeria as “ethnically based” or “based on religious difference” or both, he continued.


“Election should not be based on the question of one’s religion or the tribe to which one belongs. But this is something hard to practice in Nigeria,” he said. “Religious-tribalism is what hinders us. There is a need to take as our examples countries like Senegal and Malawi: countries where people do not vote just because some politician belongs to a certain tribe or religion, but because he or she is Sudanese or Malawian.”


“Instead of using religion as an instrument to transform life for the better, we have used it to transform life for the worst,” said Mbillah. He called on all Nigerians to be conscious of the current situation and to take appropriate action, regardless of tribe or religion.


“The tendency is aligning with your religion or ethnic group, even when they are wrong. ‘Negative solidarity’ is what prevails in Nigeria,” he said, identifying this as a tremendous challenge for the peace and development processes.


Interreligious dialogues between Muslims and Christians – on confliction prevention, peace-building and living together regardless of religion and tribe – are among the efforts that churches and leaders of other faiths have adopted in addressing the conflict in Nigeria, Mbillah affirmed.


“Inequitable distribution of resources should be mentioned when talking of the current conflict situation in Nigeria,” Kukah said. “Violence has occurred when Nigerians struggle to gain independence by asserting their will to take control of their nation’s resources, yet in turn they receive only a negative response from the government.”


“Good governance is what we are all looking for,” was one statement from the session on which the two speakers firmly agreed.


(*) Aneth Lwakatare is a WCC communications department intern from Tanzania.


Opinions expressed in WCC Features do not necessarily reflect WCC policy. This material may be reprinted freely, providing credit is given to the author.