Nigerian Christian and Muslim religious leaders are meeting in the northern city of Maiduguri, seeking ways to rebuild broken relationships that were once harmonious between the two largest faiths in Africa's most populous nation. Conflicts, often triggered by inter-religious tensions, in the past 30 years are said to have claimed more than half a million lives and to have led to the displacement of millions in a country that has not officially experienced a war for four decades.
The meeting in the country's north, where Muslims predominate, came at the request of Nigeria's Inter-religious Council. The interfaith body was established nine years ago at the prompting of Roman Catholic bishops due to incessant inter-religious conflicts that had engulfed the country. It was intended as a platform under which religious leaders could meet to discuss common problems confronting Nigerian Christians and Muslims. "Our desire has been to see that religious conflicts are reduced to a minimum," Samuel Salifu, secretary general of the Christian Association of Nigeria, told Ecumenical News International. "A lot of Muslim leaders crave for peaceful relationships with Christians and that is why we've been discussing to see how we can live in unity and peace in the country."
Twenty-five leaders from each of the two faiths on 5 May began four days of dialogue under the auspices of the interfaith council, co-chaired by the Catholic archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, president of the Christian association, and the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslim community, Sultan Sa ád Abubakar of Sokoto. "Nigeria in recent times has witnessed an unprecedented level of insecurity," Nigeria's Leadership newspaper said in an editorial on 28 April: "Inter-communal and inter-ethnic clashes, religious violence, armed robbery, assassination, mass killings, murder, gender-based violence, bomb explosions etc., have led to enormous loss of life and property and a general atmosphere of siege and social tension for the people. Turbulent communal clashes, ethno-religious crises and socio-political upheavals have had serious implications on national survival."
During the interfaith meeting, religious groups from the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and Taraba aim to gain an understanding of issues that have become impediments towards sustainable inter-religious harmony in the northern part of Nigeria where in some states Islamic law prevails. The secretary to Nigeria's federal government, Ambassador Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, also has a delegation at the interfaith talks. This is seen by observers as a sign of the importance of the relationship between the approximately 50 percent Muslims and 40 percent Christians among Nigeria's 130 million people.
Ishaq Oloyede, the principal of the University of Ilorin, who is coordinator of the inter-religious council, told journalists on 2 May that Nigeria's "political class" has been responsible for the conflicts in the country as they have manipulated religion for "self aggrandisement".
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