The Clergy of Tiv Extraction in Taraba State held its 1st meeting of the year 2020 at Mutum-Biyu, Gassol Local Government area of Taraba State on 12th June, 2020. Having prayerfully reflected on the issues affecting Christians, the Tiv People of Taraba and indeed the entire State at this critical time of the prolonged crisis in Southern and Central Taraba, hereby issue the following communiqué:
- CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF PEACE BUILDING
One of the greatest gifts that our Lord Jesus Christ bequeathed to the world before his ascension was peace. Throughout his earthly ministry, Christ taught and lived out the values of peaceful co-existence. He challenged his disciples to be peace makers and revealed to them how blessed they would be if they live out their challenge of being peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). As Christians therefore, to be peacemakers is neither an option nor a luxury. In this wise, it remains our mission as Christians to be heralds of peace and active participants in peace building in the human society. Therefore, as religious leaders of the Christian faith, it is part of our obligation to speak prophetically against any form of the deterioration of peace and all that endangers harmonious existence. This calls to mind the words of Edmund Burke, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
Our communiqué therefore addresses whatever is against God’s commandment. The killing of any human life; God’s children is evil. The failure to protect innocent people from relentless attack is evil. The lack of prosecution of perpetrators is evil. The response to the attacks and the humanitarian conditions is, for lack of better words far below average. We call on all those with constitutional authority as well other critical stakeholders to ensure the immediate cessation of hostilities and return to normalcy. We stress further that justice is the only way to true and lasting peace. As Pope Paul VI once noted; “If you want peace, work for Justice.” We reiterate that it is the first and primary responsibility of Taraba State government to secure the lives of all people living within its jurisdiction irrespective of status, ethnic or religious affiliation. As a body, we declare our unflinching support for all sincere peace mediation, justice and respect for human life. No doubt, peace building is a deliberate, daily and daunting task that requires the support of all.
- OUR CONCERN
We observe with enormous concern the prolonged nature of the crisis in the Southern part of our state. What began as a little misunderstanding between two neighbours (Tiv & Jukun) in Kente, Wukari LGA area of Taraba State on 1st April 2019 has spread like wild fire affecting nearly the whole of the Southern and Central parts of our State. Although, the crisis has been on for a while, it remains underreported. In the few instances the news is reported, the stories feature only an ethnic group. Furthermore, the rate of spread of hate speeches, blackmail, labeling sometimes orchestrated by some organs and functionaries of government remains worrisome too. The implications for the lingering crisis remain quite grievous. There is already widespread hunger and starvation in our state; the Nature’s gift to the Nation. Although, it is raining season already but people in the affected areas cannot access their farms due to fear of attack. Furthermore, many people have been killed and properties worth millions destroyed. Shamefully too, Churches are not spared. The landscape of our state is being lined with scores of Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp. Growing hatred between members of the warring ethnic groups is alarming. All of these constitute sub-human forms of existence.
- CAUSE OF THE CURRENT CRISIS
We established earlier that this current crisis began between two neighbours. However, from all indications this little misunderstanding already had a fertile ground in extant causes that have been responsible for the incessant crises in that zone of the State. These reasons include but are not limited to the following: fear of political and economic domination, land ownership, status rights and a general spirit of intolerance.
- GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
We duly acknowledge the numerous peace meetings initiated by the Taraba State government and other critical stakeholders since the current crisis began. However, it appears the more meetings are held, the more hostilities and attacks erupt. There appears to be a missing link since the fruits of the deliberations are yet to reflect in the current trend of events. There is the need to rethink the approaches used in mediation so far. We equally remain worried that it has become a habit that our elected government officials find it difficult to visit communities that are attacked. Even when attempts are made, it is often one-sided. This same attitude is often transferred to those living in IDP camps, where they suffer less care and attention. This seeming lack of empathy will only continue to breed the seeds of mistrust and will make the government appear complicit.
- THE PEOPLE’S RESPONSIBILITY
We continue to call upon our people to exercise restraint and remain law-abiding. As it is popularly said, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. It is commendable that many of our people who have fled their homes for safety have sought refuge within the jurisdiction of Taraba state. This will hopefully make accessibility by government agencies and other humanitarian agencies to them become easier. While government continues to make her effort to secure them, they must also be mindful of the fact that security is a collective responsibility. They must promptly report threats of attack to appropriate authorities and ensure that their lives are duly safe. We must remember that life is a sacred gift and no one has the right to take that of another.
- OUR HOPE
As people of faith, we believe in the abiding presence of God and his faithfulness. As we read in scripture: He will not leave you nor forsake you, do not be afraid and do not be discouraged. These assurances are still relevant in our time. In the face of the prevailing crisis in our state, we want our people of faith not to be hopeless. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Let us eschew every form of hate speech, or incitement of violence. Only love can conquer violence and hatred. Since peace is a collective task, let us continue to work sincerely for harmonious living.
- THE WAY FORWARD
The Taraba State Government should, as a matter of urgency, deploy more security forces to the affected villages in the Southern and Central zones to end the killings and ensure the safe return of affected persons to their ancestral homes. This will also serve to reduce the health concern of possible spread of Covid-19 in the displaced camps.
Since the affected people are predominantly farmers, government should assist in providing housing and farming materials to enable them to pick up their lives immediately.
The State Government must muster courage and the political will to get to the root causes of the crisis and find enduring solutions predicated on justice. In this sense, the need for a judicial commission of inquiry cannot be continuously overlooked. We must remember that a haphazard or peripheral approach to ending this crisis will only lead to “graveyard peace”. Furthermore, we call for accountability and probity in the handling of the ongoing crisis and urge government to prosecute those who aid and abet crisis through financial resources, careless speeches of incitement for the purposes of stoking hatred and violence.
Although the executive governor of our state, arch. Darius Dickson Ishaku once hinted that the crisis was an internal affair and not beyond his capacity, he must also for the sake of common good and posterity be honest in seeking Federal and international assistance where it becomes obvious. As these popular sayings put it; “No one is an island and secondly; “no one has the monopoly of wisdom”.
We acknowledge with appreciation the recent provision of food and other items to the victims of communal clashes and windstorm by the federal government through NEMA. As the crisis escalates with more people sent to IDPs camps in southern and central zones, government should provide more relief materials and medicals for the wounded and shelter for the victims. We plead with the Federal ministry of humanitarian affairs and other agencies of government to also make haste and intervene in the humanitarian crisis that has displaced so many people most especially those living in IDP camps.
Journalists must be just and fair in their reportage. They need to give comprehensive, balanced and steadfast coverage of the crisis.
We call on all Christian groups from the warring ethnic groups to see the need for a strong platform for interfacing and dialogue as this crisis involves ethnic groups which are predominantly Christian.
While we acknowledge the efforts of security agencies in ending the crisis, but we equally draw their attention on the need to be consistently professional and not lose neutrality. Attempts at any point to take side would only confirm existing fears. Needless to say, it remains the constitutional duty of security agents to secure the lives and property of every Nigerian irrespective of status, ethnicity or religions.
8. A CALL TO PRAYER
As we entrust our State to the mercy of God, we equally entrust the different ethnic warriors and those who have been profiting from this crisis. God can turn the heart of stone to heart of flesh. Let us pray for their conversion. To our governor, we want you to know that we pray every day for the success of your government in dealing with insecurity in Taraba. We pray all the time for the government you lead to bring all Tarabans to feel that we are equal in this state irrespective of ethnic or religious background. This communiqué today reveals our commitment to the restoration of peace in every part of Taraba State that has experienced unrest.
Rev. Fr. Simon Akuraga Pst. James Unongo
(Chairman, CTETS) (Secretary, CTETS)