An archbishop in Nigeria has spoken out following the recent violent clashes that have claimed the lives of numerous people.
The violence first erupted on January 17th in the town of Jos, in Plateau State, central Nigeria, and Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos criticized both the Nigerian government and the national and international media for their response to the crisis.
Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop explained how many of the media were tending only to further inflame the conflicts by conveying false information and publishing numerous pictures in order to draw in as many readers and viewers as possible.
This approach was “counter-productive,” he said. Moreover, since Christians often had no voice in the media, they were in many cases portrayed as the aggressors, he protested.
The archbishop added that many people would believe such reports as though they were “gospel truths,” not being aware that such reports are often not based on facts but on the opinions of journalists. He called instead for “conscientious and prudent reporting,” adding that in the case of the most recent violence, the actual facts are still completely unclear.
Much of what is being presented as fact is based solely on rumors, the archbishop warned. He went on to say that, when covering Nigeria, the media are often more concerned with reporting on violence as widely as possible, without concerning themselves with the issues of real importance.
According to Archbishop Kaigama, and in contrast to the general tone of the reporting, it is not so much a matter of religiously motivated violence, but rather of social, political and ethnic conflicts.
The archbishop said that the Nigerian government has failed to provide its people with any form of social security, while a large percentage of young people feel they have no future; there is no employment, no prospects. These young people are frustrated and despairing, and violence is often the result.
To make matters worse, this tendency to violence is often exploited by political and religious leaders. In many cases it is a matter of ethnic conflicts between different tribal groups, according to the archbishop.
Archbishop Kaigama called on the Nigerian government to make Nigeria into “a better country” and to develop the potential of the Nigerian people while providing security for them.
It is not only the young people who are discontented, he added, but also many adults who are often unpaid, or paid only very belatedly, for their hard work.
The government was not fulfilling its responsibilities, the archbishop continued. Almost all the social services are provided by the Church, yet her work is not supported by the government and is dependent instead on the support of outside aid agencies.
Now the curfew imposed following the outbreaks of violence is only making the Church’s work still more difficult and still further exacerbating the tensions in society, Archbishop Kaigama told ACN.
The archbishop emphasized that the Catholic Church must continue to pursue dialogue with Islam, and even intensify it. He acknowledged that there are many people who regard this as pointless, but he said that conflict “has never yet proved helpful.”
Instead it is important, he believes, to create a climate of harmony and peace and to work for this above all among young people. In this area there are many projects in which Christian and Muslim young people “learn and work” together.
Archbishop Kaigama also told ACN that the training of future priests and catechists is of great importance, since they are the ones who “go out to the people, bringing hope and carrying out the work of peace and reconciliation right down at the grass roots.”
ACN supports numerous projects in Nigeria, including the training of priests and catechists and the reconciliation work of the Catholic Church. In 2008, the charity gave over $1.2 million for project work there.