Venerable Ariire Ayo Kolawole, Vicar of Our Saviour’s Anglican Church, Egbe, Lagos speaks with Seyi John Salau on the herder/farmer conflicts, what could be done to mitigate future crisis in the country, among other issues. Excerpts:
The herder/farmer conflicts have been on for a while. As an expert in peace and conflict resolution, what do you think can be done about these incessant clashes to bring about lasting peace in the country?
In any crisis, before you get it settled you need to know the causes. There are three important things in conflict that should be taken into cognizance. Number one is interest of the conflicting parties involved. Before anybody will have an issue with another person, there must be an interest they want to achieve. Number two is the goal, and it is very important, and number three is the principal actors who are the people: what interest do these people have or what goal do they want to achieve? All these things are very important. In these herder/farmer clashes there are several factors that we need to consider: one is political, two ethnic, and three is religious. So, all these factors must be looked into before anybody can just dabble into it for resolution. I am talking of interest, and if you see the role that the government is actually playing – is the government really sincere? You will see some political undertone in this matter; you will see some religious undertone in this matter, and you will equally see some tribal differences in this matter. Religion is terms of, whether anybody likes it or not today, you will see the way Islam is operating with some secret agendas; the northerners as well, and the government knows what to do but are they sincere? And you will see that government is also using it as a weapon. That is also how Boko Haram came, and remember, before Boko Haram eventually emerged, six years to the time, the government was alerted but they never acted. When they were building this Sambisa camp, the government was also alerted before it eventually manifested but the government never took it seriously. I remember several proposals were written to the government during the Jonathan administration when this issue of Boko Haram first came up; remember Jonathan made a statement that it was not true, it was not real – so, it was until it escalated into violence that the government took it seriously.
What role can the church play in the present situation?
If the government has failed us, and if other avenues that could be used to resolve the crises have failed, what can the church do? I think the Nigerian church is cowardly; I must be frank with you. And again, in political or national issues, most times the Nigerian church could not come to the front because even the church has messed itself up and that is the truth. For instance, you will remember the role that Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) played under Oritsejafor then, who was alleged to have taken money from government. The church will not be able to take some key decisions on national matters until the day it separates itself from the state. It is a big issue at the moment, and as long as the church is still married with the state, it cannot do much. Why did I say marriage here? What is the relevance of government sponsoring people for pilgrimage? It doesn’t make any sense.
However, as it is now the church can still do more by coming out to speak up. One, you cannot fight an enemy you don’t know, it is important. Nigeria churches at times are too shallow in knowledge – Nigerian church is far from information; we discover that many of our members don’t really know what is happening in our society, and because you do not have the authentic information you cannot know the area you need to comment on. I think the church must wake up on national issues to be really involved, especially during election. And, in terms of conflict resolution, the church is better positioned. For example, if the church identifies their members, the mosque also identifies their members causing crisis in the society, I do not see any of my members being involved in a conflict that I will not be able to talk to. So, we have to start from there, first by teaching; second, by preaching and by demonstrating what we teach, and the church must also be involved in mediating in conflict situation.
The rate of divorce among young couples in the church calls for concern; how can the church mitigate this trend?
The alarming rate of divorce in the church today is part of the global change because tradition has been so badly affected, and it is also part of the western culture that has eaten deep into us. It has eroded our cultural values as a people. Number two cause is the underage marriage in the society; many people that are getting married today are not yet ready for marriage. The biblical recommendation for marriage is not for young boys to marry; it is for a man. That is the word that the bible used, that a man must leave his father and mother – I want you to take note of the word ‘man’. The bible is so mindful of the choice of language. By using the word ‘man’, the bible talks about maturity and you cannot be a man when you are not intellectually mature, when you are not mature in thinking, and you equally cannot be a man when you are not independent financially; you don’t have a job. When young couples come to me saying they want to marry, the first question I ask them is – do you have a job? If you do not have something doing for a living, you cannot marry because by the time you cannot cope financially, it causes a lot of trouble. Then maturity – many of these children are not properly nurtured. In those days you see people grow to have mentors and are nurtured to the extent of what they should do. Number three is that today, people do not know the purpose of marriage; many marry for so many reasons different from the way the Lord institutionalized it. For instance, the way of thinking for young people today is different: somebody wants to marry a young girl whose parents are rich, perhaps to use her as a stool to get up. When that is not achieved, it becomes an issue. And there is a lot of deceit today, people are deceived into marriage. Again, many young people are impatient: they don’t want to endure anymore.
Coming back to the question of what can the church do, number one is teaching; the church should do more of teaching on this issue. By the grace of God, last year in our General Synod I moved a motion on how the church can make impact in the lives of members regarding family matters, and as a diocese we are setting up a mediation centre. What we aim to achieve now is to really discourage the rate of litigations among our members. Number two, because there are lots of frictions and issues in the church, we want to identify families and members that are having issues, and we want the mediation centre to take care of the issues. Through this mediation centre, we will be having seminars and platforms to reach out to members to help people have a successful and happy home; that is the area where the church can come in.
Looking at the economic situation in the country and the size of your parish, how do you cope with ongoing development in the church?
God’s work is God’s work; it is God that does His work, even when you have larger population. God does not work by population. For instance, let’s start from Jesus Christ: what we enjoy as church today started with 12 people – Jesus had 12 disciples. Among the multitude in those days, Jesus took only few to implement whatever plans he might have. And remember vividly in the Old Testament when the children of Israel were going to war, it was only few people that were appointed to go and fight the battle. God has always taken few people and does not work by number – the work of God is not a game where you rely on numbers. Number two, when you have faith in Him, He will work His purpose out. And one thing about God is that when He is sending you, He has actually completed His work even before you get there. He will just send you as an intermediary or an instrument of fulfilment. Remember when He sent Moses in Exodus 3, Moses was complaining: ‘This work that you have given me, I am not as eloquent’. But God told him, ‘I will provide a way, I will raise somebody for you to interpret and I will teach you what to say at every point in time; I will occupy your mouth’. So, that is the evidence that whatever God wants to achieve He will. Moses at a point also complained about manpower and God said, ‘What is that you are carrying in your hand?’ He said it was rod and God ministered to the rod and made ordinary to be extraordinary.