Friday, 13 April 2018

Archbishop Kaigama Inaugurates RECOWA Peace Committee

It was a gathering of who is who in West Africa at the Catholic Secretariat in Abuja this week as the Association of Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) through its President, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos Nigeria, His Grace, Most Rev Ignatius A. Kaigama inaugurated the RECOWA Peace Committee for West Africa. 
PURPOSE OF THE COMMITTEE: To play a key role in ensuring that the rights and dignity of men, women, youth, children and the most vulnerable in our communities are both respected and protected. It shall be proactive in addressing the political, religious and ethnic crises that have bedevilled the West African region bearing in mind that all countries in the region are facing the same or similar challenges. 
The committee will also seek to influence both national and regional polices with regards to Peace, Reconciliation and inter-Religious Dialogue based on the Social Teaching of the Church, especially on the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations: Ecclesia in Africa and Afrcae Munus
The main objectives of the Committee which is the first of its kind in the region shall be to:
Support the Catholic Church in West Africa in her pastoral and advocacy work in addressing the political, socio-cultural and inter-religious crises within the region before they escalate to major conflicts.
To assist the Bishops on policies and procedures; and to suggest appropriate means of supporting the implementation of RECOWA /CERAO Strategic Plans on Peace, Justice and Social Cohesion; and the ECOWAS Peace and Security Framework.
To serve as a Forum for Collaboration between the leadership of the Church in West Africa, the Governments and the ECOWAS Commission, the Political Parties, Civil society Organisations, Religious Leaders, and Major Development and Peace Actors within the region of West Africa on issues related to conflicts, peace and security.
To provide services to the ECOWAS Commission for a peaceful, respectful, and harmonious coexistence in our region through the RECOWA/CERAO.
And finally to complement the Advocacy Work and the Political Engagement of RECOWA/CERAO on Non-Violence and Peace Building within the region.

The RECOWA Peace Committee was inaugurated in Abuja, Nigeria, at the Catholic Resource Centre on the 12th April, 2018 by the President of RECOWA Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama. The occasion was witnessed by dignitaries including Ambassadors of various countries, a large number of members of the Catholic Women Organization of Nigeria and representatives of Bishops, priests, religious and lay people. The Peace Committee is an initiative of Bishops of the Catholic Church in West Africa,  for mediation, prevention, resolution and transformation of conflicts in the region. Members of the RECOWA Peace Committees inaugurated are:

1. Arlindo Cardinal Futardo, Bishop of Praia-Santiago (Cape Verde)
2. Philippe Cardinal Ouedraogo, Archbishop of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)
3. John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja (Nigeria)
4. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia (Nigeria)
5. Nicodème Barrighah-Benissan, Bishop of Atakpamè (Togo)
6. Rev Fr. Innocent Jooji (Nigeria)
7. Mrs. Youm Marie Noëlle D. Sene, (Senegal)
8. Mr.  Elysé Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
9. Sir Emmanuel Habuka Bombande, (Ghana)

Three people accompanied Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama, representing the State, namely:
Prof. John Wade in charge of Research and Documentation, Government House,
Mr Joesph Lengmang, The Director General, Plateau Peace Building Agency, and 
Rev Fr Blaise Agwom, the Executive Director, Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre, Jos.
Also among the dignitaries were the representatives of the ECOWAS President and the Embassies of Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso among others.

Address of the President of RECOWA: Most Rev Ignatius Kaigama, at the
Resource Centre of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Durumi, Abuja, 12th April 2018

 Your Excellency, Jean Claude Brou, The President of the ECOWAS Commission, 
Your Excellency, Geoffrey Onyema, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors of the ECOWAS countries to the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Your Eminence, Arlindo Cardinal Futardo Gomes, Bishop of Praia Santiago,  
Your Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, 
Your Excellency Antonio Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria and Holy See Representative at ECOWAS,
Your Excellency, Lucius Ugorji, The RECOWA Chairman of Justice and Peace Commission,                                                                                                                                                                  Distinguished invited guests,                                                                                                                        Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I bring you warm greetings of peace and love on behalf of the leadership and the entire lay faithful of the Association of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of West Africa. We are very honored to have you here, at the Resource Centre of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
The Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and indeed our entire communities across West Africa express our deep and heartfelt gratitude to you our dear invited dignitaries for gracing this inauguration ceremony of the RECOWA Peace Committee (REPCO) with your presence. Your presence here is, indeed, a sign of the collaboration between the political and the religious orders in our common pursuit for justice, peace, stability and the development of our people.
Until 2007, the Catholic Bishops of West Africa had two separate bodies based on two linguistic groups: English and French. They were the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa (AECAWA 1977) and Conférence Episcopale Régionale de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CERAO 1963). Convinced of the necessity of a greater regional integration and organic pastoral solidarity transcending the linguistic and historical differences, the Bishops of the Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone West Africa met in Abuja, Nigeria in December 2007, where it was decided that, we would create an overarching body, that would enable us work together in supporting the development and progress of our nations. After all, the people are the same and the problems facing the region are also the same. Following sustained discussions, it was finally decided that these bodies relinquish their identities and merge into one. So, the Anglophone Episcopal Conference of West Africa, (AECAWA),  the Francophone and Lusophone Conférence Episcopale de l’Afrique de l’Ouest(CERAO) merged and formed the Association of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, AECOWA. This was ratified at the final plenary of both bodies in Banjul, The Gambia in September 2009 and implemented at the feet of Our Lady Queen of Peace in the Basilica of that name in Yamoussoukro, (Côte d’Ivoire), January 23rd – 29th 2012. This body meets  once in three years and rotates the meetings around the region. It has eight Episcopal Commissions with different Committees which address different topics and themes of pastoral and social  relevance to the Catholic Church in the region.

During our sixth Standing Committee meeting in January 2018, held in Praia (Cape Verde) and following one of our resolutions in Yamoussoukro, the Bishops created the RECOWA Peace Committee (REPCO) which functions under the umbrella of the Episcopal Commission for Justice, Peace and Development.  It pursues among other goals the following objectives:

1.     The prevention, mediation, resolution and transformation of conflicts in the region.
2.     The promotion of justice, peace, democracy and stability through good governance.
We are not unaware of some significant challenges within our region which  need to be addressed. In fact, the Presidential Council of RECOWA presented to the former President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf JOHNSON, the then President of the Assembly of ECOWAS Heads of State some of these challenges during an audience with her in Liberia on April 2017. These include:

Political transition in West Africa often with a great degree of instability;
Danger of youth unemployment resulting in migration that has transformed the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean into cemeteries;
Religious intolerance that has turned into extremism and terrorism;
Nomadic herdsmen often associated with acts of rape, murder, destruction of farms, abductions and conflicts.
Land grabbing and its consequences of unemployment, migration and rise of poverty among our populations.
A cursory glance at the political context of our region reveals that there are cases of poor democratic transitions due to many factors such as non-respect for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation/engagement with constant human rights violations and tortures; the arrest of persons and the abuse of their rights especially those in the opposition parties, Civil Society Organizations and Faith Leaders and also the violation of treaties and laws which all countries have registered acceptance and commitment.
The political tensions caused by the manipulation of constitutions and the electoral processes weaken the people’s participation in governance while politicians take advantage of ethnic and religious divisions to achieve their prsonal desires. Elections cost unnecessarily so  much due to bribery of voters and post-election legal tussles.
When, as shepherds of our people, we draw the attention of our leaders to these issues, we are not doing politics, but because as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est,  “the just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics[1], and as  Pope Paul VI once said that “development is the new name of peace”[2], it shows that social questions tie all men and women, irrespective of religion, together in every part of the world[3]. All that we want is peace, not war, the type of global peace that His Holiness, Pope Francis, continues to advocate today, namely, peace without borders. As religious leaders we cannot but act and react against everything that dehumanizes, impoverishes, alienates and maims man. We are concerned whenever and wherever a human being  suffers, struggles and dies; wherever injustice crystallizes into violence; wherever man is less man and aspires to be more man. We do not want to live behind a curtain of silence. For this reason we need to meet the political leaders from time to time for joint reflections and actions. This is the raison d’être of the RECOWA Peace Committee.
 At the RECOWA level we have therefore considered  the need for a regional structure for the prevention, mediation, resolution and transformation of conflict; a regional liaison office to collaborate with the ECOWAS Commission and relevant institutions and also a  body to participate in election observation.
 These structures will work under the umbrella of the Justice and Peace Commission; and we shall count on the various National/Inter-territorial Justice Development and Peace Commissions to start the work at each country level. We have a well organised network that runs through the region i.e  the National episcopal Conferences, the Dioceses, the parishes and outstations. We are putting all these at the disposal of all people of goodwill so that we can build a region where the unwelcome sounds of bombs and Kalashnikovs will be something of the past. Peace, not war!
 The RECOWA Peace Committee (REPCO) is composed of three Cardinals representing the three linguistic zones: Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone as well as Bishops, Priests and Lay persons with the necessary expertise.  With this body, the Church in West Africa offers a helping hand and engages the political, social and economic leaders of our region to address the above-mentioned challenges and  to bring about justice and peace, stability and development.
 We are determined to work with all religious communities and other bodies to bring about lasting peace in our respective countries, for, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” ( Matthew 5:9). The presence of the President of ECOWAS Commission and the Ambassadors of the various countries within the West African Region who are here to grace this occasion bode well and assure all of us in RECOWA of their help and togetherness in carrying out this  mission of peace which is a sine qua non for any progress in the region.
 On this note I wish to thank you all for taking time out of your very busy  schedules to be present here for this official inauguration of the RECOWA Peace Committee. I reiterate my sentiments of gratitude to  Your Eminencies the Cardinals, the Archbishops, the priests and religious and the Lay Faithful of our Region here present. We appreciate the Staff of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria ably led by Very Reverend Ralph Madu, Secretary General of the CSN; the representative of CAFOD in Nigeria, Mr. Kelechi Emeh,
for their collaboration and support; Fr. Joseph Aka the Secretary General of RECOWA, and indeed all  those who collaborated to put this event together.

Finally, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to you, Your Excellency, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Your Excellency, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Your Excellencies - Ambassadors of the ECOWAS countries to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Your Eminences, Your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria/Holy See Observer to ECOWAS, Your Excellency, the RECOWA Chairman of Justice and Peace. Permit me please to greet also the Director of Research and Documentation of the Plateau State Government, the Director of the Plateau State Peace Agency and the Director of the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Jos, who came with me as a support to this peace initiative.

I humbly invoke God’s blessings on us all, our families and institutions and the countries we represent. Thank you for your very kind attention.

Most Rev. Ignatius A. KAIGAMA,
Archbishop of Jos Nigeria                                                                                                                             President of RECOWA/CERAO

Reported by
 Rev Fr Blaise Agwom,

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre Hosts Miango/Irigwe and Fulani Elders and Youths, Sues for Peace

Plateau State have experienced relative peace in the past few years. The political, religious, social and economic atmosphere of the state has been peaceful. In 2015 the peaceful nature of the general election underlines the effort made by Government and other NGOs/CSOs. In other to strengthen the process of peace on the State, the current Government established the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA), to facilitated peace building activities towards ending conflict in Plateau State.
Recently, the peace enjoyed by the people of Plateau State has eluded us. Violent conflict, attacks and reprisal attacks have become the order of the day, many people were killed and properties worth millions of naira were destroyed in Miango and other surrounding villages in Irigweland. 
Bassa LGA used to be one of the most peaceful LGA in Plateau State, but recently from 2016 it has been engulf in a cycle of violence. It started between Irigwe and Rukuba the two major tribes in the LGA and recently it has escalated between the Irigwe and the Fulani’s.
The ethnic crises between Fulani and Irigwe have taken a different dimension with high level of killings and destruction. Many people were killed, farms were destroyed and many cattle were killed and rustled while millions of people have been displaced mostly women and children. 
Despite the deployment of military personnel in the affected areas the violence kept escalating day by day.
According to the people the following factors contributed towards escalating the crises between the Fulani and the Irigwe.
Ø Break in communication between the two communities which led to suspicion and mutual distrust.
Ø Hijacking of the crises by criminals to perpetrate their criminal activities- Such as Cattle rustling, Rubbery etc. 
Ø Proliferation of arms in the communities
Ø Lack of political will by government and the security agencies to curtail the situation
Ø Stray cattle or cows as a result of underage shepherds or children. 
First dialogue Session: The Archbishop invited all the Leaders/Elders of Irigwe and Fulani residing around Miango in Bassa LGA, on the 28thMarch 2018 to DREP centre for dialogue 
As part of his effort in promoting peaceful coexistence among people in Plateau State; the Archbishop of Jos Most. Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, invited the leaders and representatives of the two ethnic communities of Fulani and Irigwe for a roundtable dialogue session. The dialogue session was held in DREP Centre because of its neutrality to both parties. During the dialogue session the people shared their grievances and expressed their dissatisfaction over the entire situation.
The people narrated how the crises have affected their lives negatively. For the Irigwe ethnic communities, they expressed their pains on how they lost loved ones and at the moment they cannot go to their farms because of the fear of attacks.
The Fulani people also expressed their pains on how they will not be able to go into the bush to rear their animals for fear of attacks and at the moment they are displaced and have to settle in other parts of the LGA. 
After a lengthy discussion the people came to the agreement that they will put all effort to bring to an end the incessant ethnic crises that have bedevilled their communities.

After a lengthy interaction under the guidance of His Grace the Archbishop, the following agreements were arrived at:
1.    We have agreed that we have offended one another and therefore seek to forgive one another. 
2.    We have agreed that all forms of hostility should be stopped immediately. We need to address our youths to cease all forms of hostility from both sides.
3.    We have agreed to live together in peace and tolerance.
4.    We have agreed to go back and sensitize our youths on the need for peaceful coexistence.
5.    We are aware that there are foreigners responsible for the attacks. We agree on the need for such foreigners to be identified and expelled from the communities.
6.    We caution ourselves on spreading unfounded rumours which can escalate the conflict.
7.    We caution ourselves not to temper with farms or cattle that do not belong to us, especially as we approach the farming season.
8.    We have agreed that Fulani chiefs and youths should collaborate with the Irigwe chiefs and youths to ensure lasting peace.
9.    We have agreed that the Fulanis should not leave their cattle in the custody of under- aged children especially where the cattle are many.
10.  We have agreed that both the Fulani and the Irigwe communities will bring 15 youths each for dialogue aimed at ending the conflict in Irigwe land. Also, so that they too will key in and be part of the agreement since they are always they ones at the for-front during violent conflicts.
11.  The meeting with the youths has been scheduled for Thursday 5thApril 2018. While the meeting with the stakeholders (Miango, Rukuba, youths and Fulani) has been scheduled for Saturday 5thMay 2018, with Representatives from JNI and CAN to join in the meeting.
Because of the success of the first dialogue session between the leaders of Irigwe and Fulani, they suggested another separate meeting for the youth representatives of both tribes to meet in DREP also for dialogue. The elders agreed to invite 15 youth leaders from each tribe for the next meeting.
 Second Dialogue Session:with Youth Representatives of Irigwe and Fulani Communities in Miango.  
The second dialogue session took place on the 5thApril 2018 in DREP Centre, with the youth representatives of the both Fulani and Irigwe communities in Miango and heir surrounding villages. The meeting with the youth also took the same format as that of the elders. After a lengthy discussion and sharing of experience, the youth also come to a conclusion that they will want to strengthen the peace process they have started through this dialogue. As a result, they agreed to meet again in their community, and they will invite other youths within their various communities in other to widen the scope of participation in the meeting and to gain wide acceptance of the peace process. 
They fixed 19thApril 2018 for the next meeting, venue to be announce by the paramount chief Irigwe chiefdom.
The following agreements were also arrived at:
1.     Crimes should not be generalised by demonising the person’s tribe. If a person commits a crime, such a person should be isolated and punished.
2.     Some people sometimes bring in foreigners to assist them in fighting their neighbours within our communities. Such foreigners should be identified and reported to both traditional and political authorities.
3.     The sincerity of the dialogue meetings between our communities so far is questionable, since after these meetings and agreements reached, people are still being killed. It is important that all who are present at this meeting be honest and sincere to ourselves.
4.     Both Irigwe and Fulani have coexisted together in peace for a very long time. We need to forgive one another and bury the hatchet because we have no other home and taking someone else’ life will not add to yours. We should forgive and forget.
5.     Despite the conflict, there are some Irigwe and Fulani who are still collaborating and working together in building bridges of peace, love and unity. We urge all our people to join hands and work together for peace.
6.     It is hurtful when a person cultivates his farm and his crops are uprooted with impunity and arrogance. We urge all to shun destructive tendencies.
7.     We all are Religious adherents. As such, we must respect and listen to God, our Holy Books and our Religious and traditional leaders. We must also be our brother’s keepers.
8.     Offenders should be judged and punished justly. We beg that punishment should always be commensurate to the offence committed.
9.     Considering the beautiful peaceful and loving relationship that has existed between us until now, what has happened is very shameful, because we all are losers. Let us therefore give peace a chance.
10.  We request HRH Rev. Ronku Aka, the paramount leader of Irigwe land to call a meeting of all traditional leaders in Irigwe chiefdom, including the Fulani (youths and elders) for a reconciliatory meeting on 19thApril 2018, the venue will be communicated soon. This will come before our next consultative meeting scheduled for 5thMay 2018.
11.  The elders call on youths to strengthen this process of peace in the various communities.
12.  We call on our Religious leaders to use the pulpit in preaching peace, we also call on the youths to support them in bringing peace back.
13.  We suggest the formation of combined local vigilantes of Fulani and Irigwe in our communities, instead of over relying on the police and soldiers.
14.  We should learn to expose bad elements within our communities so that they do not give our communities a bad name.
15.  As we have agreed to forgive one another here, we as a Religious people need to seek forgiveness from God, individually and collectively for inner peace and healing.
16.  For the realisation of permanent peace in our communities, we call on government to try and bring back, and resettle the displaced Fulani in their former communities. We also call on government to implement all the reports presented by the commission of enquiries formed by past governments.
17.  A joint prayer event will be organised by the Dialogue Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre on a date to be announced soon. We all have agreed that we should forgive and forget.

With this intervention by the Archbishop of Jos, Most. Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama and DREP, we strongly believe that permanent and sustainable peace has returned to Irigweland and Bassa LGC of Plateau State.