On July 30, 2018, I spoke at the Plateau State Peace-Building Summit, an event that brought together traditional chiefs, religious leaders, and government officials from across Nigeria to seek opportunities to work for peace and dialogue. Plateau, a state in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, has seen violent clashes between mostly Christian ethnic Berom farmers and mostly Muslim Fulani cattle herders that have left hundreds of Nigerians dead. With this recent spike in violence, a Peace-Building Summit proved both timely and vitally important for the future of this region of Nigeria.
In our wide-ranging discussions throughout the Middle Belt, we emphasize that nothing is more sacred than a human life, be it farmer or herder, Muslim or Christian, Berom or Fulani. Any loss of life is a tragedy, and the cost of violence has touched many in rural parts of Nigeria. Innocence has been killed, communities have been torn apart, people have been displaced from their homes, and families have mourned their loved ones. The cycle of violence — attacks and reprisals and counter reprisals — has taken horrific tolls on people in the state of Plateau.
Those who work for peace are not of one group or another. They are not just Muslim, they are not just Christian. They are individuals who stand up for goodness and against violence. One such person present at the Peace-Building Summit who inspired us is Imam Abdullahi Abubakar, an 83-year-old Imam from a small town in Plateau. He risked his life by bravely standing in front of his mosque and home to plead with a rampaging mob to spare the lives of more than 300 persons – mostly Christian farmers – who had taken refuge there. His heroic actions saved these lives, and my colleagues and I from our embassy met with many of these persons, displaced from their homes by horrific violence, but alive nonetheless because this imam risked his life to save them.
The U.S. Government and U.S. Embassy in Nigeria work very closely with a number of organizations across Nigeria to protect civilians and to promote respect for human rights. We work with the Plateau Peace Building Agency, giving grants for the agency’s ongoing efforts to work for peace and dialogue in this embattled state. Ultimately, to achieve a lasting peace, we must all work together. Together, we must condemn the violence that has claimed innocent lives in Nigeria. We must break the cycle of impunity that fuels grievances on all sides, and so we must all call for effective law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminal actors. We must work together towards addressing the long term drivers of conflict and tension across Nigeria. And finally, we must all speak out for peace. For all of us, our words matter. Our actions matter. And we can all make a difference.
About the Author: David Young serves as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.
Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.