AS this year’s Ramadan fast ended, I have reflected upon what I felt was one of the most important gestures of the month; and that was the grassroots-based, peace-building effort by Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria. From Jos, through to Kaduna and Abuja, a new initiative quickly became widespread; it saw Christian organisations, religious leaders as well as disparate groups and individuals, going to break the Ramadan fast with their Muslim counterparts.
Similarly, Christian organisations donated foodstuff to Muslim groups as a gesture of goodwill, to assist the poor amongst Muslims and when a devastating flood tore through the heart of Muslim residential areas in Jos, Christian youths and religious leaders rallied to the assistance of their Muslim co-inhabitants of what is clearly a troubled city, but one which not too long ago, was the most cosmopolitan city in Northern Nigeria.
The gestures might appear on the surface to be token in content, but they are very vital markers of the desire on the parts of people on the various sides of the divide, that is hurting the North, to move beyond crises and killings which have devastated economic life; disrupted social existence and torn apart peoples who share the space of geography and history as well as culture. The concerted effort being made at peace building is no longer just at the level of official and often, empty platitudes.
People in communities realise that they have to take the issue into their own hands in order to build peace, encourage reconciliation, inter-community and inter-faith accord. Afterall, everyone realises that no section of the community can wish the other away. Besides, while identity is a fact, we can build mutual respect into the differences which exist in our society.
It is therefore important to acknowledge the remarkable gestures which were symbolically tied to the devotion central to Ramadan. We must also hope and encourage everybody in the different communities in the North, to persist with the peace building efforts commenced during Ramadan, into a perpetual process to dig out of the hole of suspicion, intolerance, disrespect, hatred and killings. They hurt all of us all around!
Central to the problems we face in the North is the irresponsibility associated with the deficit in governance. Resources supposedly earmarked for development continue to dwindle and whatever is available, is largely stolen by groups of elite on all sides of the divide.
Access to power therefore is fought out very fiercely by these groups of elite who then conscript identities of ethnicity and religion into their vicious struggle for power. A huge swathe of the population exists precariously on the margins of society, and is therefore available for recruitment for all manners of destructive purposes, at the instigation of power-seeking factions of the elite.
The framing of the other, either of the other religion or other ethnic group, has led to negative consequences for our solidarity and peaceful co-existence.
In the context of the crises phenomena which face our society today, the responsible elements of the elite must play more central roles in helping to diffuse tension and suspicion amongst our various communities and faith groups.
I think the gestures we saw during Ramadan, represent significant green shoots of growth, which the various communities of Northern Nigeria must work together to nurture into fruition. It is also indicative of the optimistic trend that reports have emerged, of tentative efforts at negotiation between the Nigerian government and the insurgent Boko Haram group.
It is an issue that I hope to examine in a subsequent column on this page. Suffice it to say, that I have been very consistent in my advocacy of peace through negotiation and reconciliation, as the most effective means of breaking the logjam of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The killings, reprisals, suspicion between faith and ethnic communities of recent years, have sapped vibrancy out of life in the North, yet I remain incurably optimistic, that we can still get things right, with dedicated labour.
The effort of people around the North during Ramadan, show what is clearly achievable, when people are determined to work together to build peace.