by Carmen McCain
Published by Weekly Trust on 31 March 2012
For the link to the article, click here.
Last week, I reviewed Rev. Yakubu Pam and Dr. Katrina Korb’s book Fighting for Peace: Learning from the Peace Heroes Among Us, which tells stories of both Christians and Muslims who have overcome prejudices and hardships to work for peace. The day after I turned in my review, I attended the launching for the book held Thursday, 22 March, at the office of the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation (YACPIF) in Jos. Although initially envisioning a bigger affair, the authors felt it would be inappropriate to have a large launching while families were still grieving after the two church bombings in Jos and subsequent violence against members of the Muslim community. Instead they combined a youth meeting with the book launch. While the meeting was attended by a few people from the university and the film industry, including filmmaker Sani Mu’azu who had written the forward to the book, most of the participants were youth from the community involved with YACPIF as “young ambassadors.” It was their voices who were most heard at the event. If reading the book had sometimes brought tears to my eyes, I was even more touched by hearing Christian and Muslim young people tell in their own voices, stories of friendship and peacemaking.
Several of the people whose stories were featured in the book were at the event: Pastor Sunday, whose church had been burnt three times but who continued to work for community reconciliation and Magaji Sule, who said that he’d been a troublemaker since he was 9 years old, many times leading Muslim youth in fighting. If not for his affirming encounter with Rev. Pam, said Magaji, “I would have been Osama. But they gave me a certificate of peace, so that now the world knows I am a peacemaker. Nothing is better than peace.” “Politicians are using us,” he said. “Have you ever seen their children fighting alongside us? Are we fools?”
Also featured in the book and at the event was Augustine Davou, who had often joined in fighting and had several friends who had been shot in previous crises. When he was first invited to go for “peace football” training, he cynically approached it as an opportunity to get a free t-shirt and play football. However, some of the exercises, such as one that demonstrated how rumours are spread, revolutionized his outlook on life. His friends used to come to him saying “Dem say dem dey come,” yet would only end up hurting themselves and other innocent people. Like Magaji, he ended his story with a plea to the youth: “Sometimes youth, we value politicians more than a programme like this.” If a politician does a rally, “you will see youths” crowding around “because they know maybe small money will come and they will share it. Maybe the money they will share within themselves will not even be up to N200. How many hours will you use to spend N200, but peace, this is something I believe that all of us here want.”
Other youth, who were not featured in the book, spoke about how their thinking had been changed. A Christian Timothy Daweng spoke of how he had been impacted by the peace film club that YACPIF hosts every Monday, as well as by the computer certificate course they offer to youth in the community. “Before I came to this place, I had thought I could not eat with a Muslim brother. But since I came to this place, I have a new mindset. I came to realize I can live in peace and harmony with a Muslim brother.”
Like Augustine, a Muslim Saraut Aminu described how youth were getting themselves killed over rumour, narrating how not long ago some friends came to him and told him that three okada drivers had been killed and that he should come with them to fight. “Where were they killed?” he asked. They didn’t know any details. “Somebody told us,” they said. He pointed out that the person who saw the bodies should take one of the many soldiers stationed in the city to the spot, but if youth go out with knives and guns to avenge rumoured deaths, they will simply get themselves killed.
Saraut also narrated a gripping story of the power of interfaith friendship. Calling Coach Moses, who organizes community peace football programs, to the front of the room, he said, “Coach Moses is a very good Christian. […] You will never see Coach Moses smoking. You will never see Coach Moses or his family fighting.” If everyone could be like Coach Moses, he said, there would be no crisis in Jos. He narrated that on the first day of crisis, on a Friday, Coach Moses’s brother helped his father find a safe way back home. The same day, one of Saraut’s Christian friends, whom he had only two weeks before loaned a tire to use on his motorbike, attacked him in front of Coach Moses’s house, telling him “Today is the end of your life.” Somebody put a tire on his neck. His erstwhile friend brought petrol. As they were about to light him on fire, “I saw Coach Moses from inside his house shouting.” He came out with his brothers, roaring, “No one will kill this man unless he kills me first.” Coach Moses took him into his house and protected Saraut even when youth outside threatened to burn his house. At night, they sneaked him to a safe place. Since that time, he said that whenever there is trouble in town, Coach Moses is the first to call him, “Saraut, where are you?”
“If you are calling yourself a Muslim, if you are calling yourself a Christian,” asked Saraut, “can you do what Coach Moses did? I will tell you why I am here. Coach Moses made me trust a very good Christian. A very good Christian will never bring a gun or knife. If you are a Christian, please I want everybody to be attending church. If you are Muslim I want you to be going to mosque. If you are praying five times a day you will never carry a gun or knife to kill anyone. Because no church or mosque will tell you to go and fight or go out with a knife to kill.”
So many of the stories we hear these days fill us with despair: bomb blasts, schools burned, innocent people dying daily. But in the midst of all the bad news, we must not overlook these stories of friendship and love, such as the stories told here or the story told by Margaret Ahmed of the Homemaker’s Women Development Initiative near the end of the launching about how, in November 2011, Muslim women in Jos donated six bags of clothes to Christian victims of the Barkin Ladi crisis. Last week, after I posted the link to my article on Facebook, one of my friends asked me what of those in Kaduna. “You all in Kaduna should write a book too,” I told him. All of us need to take the responsibility to spread stories of grace rather than destructive rumours. If our minds are filled with reminders of the kindness and humanity of our neighbors, it will become much harder to fall prey to manipulation by those who would use us to help destroy our own society. This is the way we march forward, little by little.