Originally leaders of opposing religious militias in Nigeria, they then became activists for interreligious dialogue. Together in 1995 they created the Interfaith Mediation Center (IMC) in the State of Kaduna in the northern Nigeria. They have since worked to pacify their country and to spread their method of dialogue to other countries.
The Interfaith Mediation Center, IMC
Founded in 1995 in Kaduna, the Interfaith Mediation Center (IMC) trains teams in conflict resolution throughout Nigeria. They lead seminars and workshops in schools and universities on subjects from democracy to interreligious dialogue. Religion as a factor of rapprochement is presented as part of their method. The IMC works with women, youths, religious leaders, and political heads. Two of the Centre’s many achievements are contributing to appeasing tensions during conflicts in Kaduna in 2002 and in Yelwa (in the Plateau State) in 2004.
Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have received the 2005 Bremen Peace Award.
Nigeria is one of the biggest countries in Africa, at the crossroads between the Sahel and the Niger River that leads to the Guinea Gulf. This leadership position is reinforced by its large population (120 million inhabitants) and important energy resources. Despite these assets, Nigeria, the result of colonial division of Africa, remains prisoner of centrifugal forces.
The country has been a theatre to one of the most deadly civil wars since the Independences with 2 million dead between May 1967 and January 1970 during the secession of the East into the Republic of Biafra.
The economic and social situation has greatly deteriorated since 1970. The Oil Eldorado has long disappeared, per capita revenue has plunged, and foreign debt constantly increases. The entire country is marked by growing inequalities, the development of informal economies, the rise of corruption and insecurity, particularly in Lagos.
In this degraded context, many political forces and interest groups have played up the ethnic and cultural differences to maintain their position at the heart of the Federation.
Generally, the Muslim Hausa-Fulanis in the north are opposed to the mostly Christian Ibo in the south. This ignores the existence of a third ethnic group, the Yorubas (in the south-east) and a number of minority groups that have woven complex alliances to defend a federalist Nigeria. They have prevailed as the Federated States went from 3 to 36 between 1960 and 1996.
The South East concentrates most of the natural resources. Since 1990, the mostly Ibo population has been rebelling against the Federal State to obtain a larger part of the oil boon. A powerful, local nationalism remains there.
Violence can be found in a more strategic location, the Niger Delta where all types of sabotage are on the rise, from hostage taking to large scale oil theft.
Confronted with ethnic groups, the State seems weak, hesitating since 1960 between federation and confederation, civil or military regime, democratic or authoritarian rule. There have been at least fifteen coups d’états alongside political assassinations, or unexplained deaths. Civilians until 1999 have only occupied powers during the 1st Republic (1960-1966), and the 2nd (1979-1983), then the 3rd (1993). The army remains therefore omnipresent in political life.
A religious conflict has been added to this already complex situation. In the north, a violent, political brand of Islam has developed since the 1980s, looking to re-establish “Muslim order” that was supposedly destroyed by the colonisation and the first years of Independence. This brand of political Islam, fanned by different factions from the Middle East, is gaining ground amongst the Hausas and the Yorubas. A new wave of Protestant sects from the United States is concentrating on “pockets” of Ibo. Everywhere, Christian groups are organising to defend their territory and preparing a counter offensive.
The northern region of Nigeria is regularly wracked by phases of inter-religious conflicts. Confrontations between Muslim and Christian militia in the north of the country resulted in thousands of deaths in the 1990s, with dozens of churches and mosques destroyed in fratricidal conflicts. Violence has also erupted these past few years in the centre of the country.
For the newly elected president (2007), the priority is to maintain the balance between the Muslim north in economic decline and the more densely and wealthier South. This delicate balance is threatened by various forms of violence and can be disrupted by religious conflicts, as events in 2008 have demonstrated.