Nigeria is ‘missing Anglican solidarity’


Ed Thornton reports in the Church Times:

THE Archbishop of the province of Jos, Dr Benjamin Kwashi, said that “solidarity” with Christians in Nigeria, who have been subjected to violence in recent years, “is missing” from the wider Anglican Commun­ion.

Speaking in London on Thursday of last week, during his two-week visit to the UK, Dr Kwashi said that the Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, had “shown deep interest and concern over the situation in Jos”. The Primate had “not only visited but . . . made rehabilitation possible for some of the displaced and suffering people.

“Unfortunately, you can’t say the same thing for the rest of the Anglican Communion,” Dr Kwashi went on. “We do get letters and encourage­ment, which is wonderful . . . but the solidarity is missing.”

Last year, Dr Kwashi wrote an open letter after more than 500 people were killed after outbreaks of violence in the Jos area (News, 12 March 2010). He accused the government of failing “to provide full security for its citizenry”, which left people “with very little option but to provide for their own kind of security”.

In recent weeks, however, there had been signs of the situation improving. In two attacks on villages, in which several people lost their lives, security forces had shown up within about 15 minutes, he said.

Loss of life, however small, is “bad news”, but “the damage is not as bad as it used to be . . . the scale [of killing] has been reduced. I think that the federal government is taking the threat of terrorism very seriously.”

Dr Kwashi also expressed hope that the Nigerian elections, which are taking place this month, would be conducted fairly. He said he was “very impressed” with the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria, Professor Attahiru Jega, who he said seemed “to be a man of integrity so far. . . He has shown himself firm and determined to do what is right.”

But, despite small signs of hope, Christians in Jos continue to live “in total fear”.

Both Dr Kwashi and his wife, Gloria, who was almost blinded after being attacked and tortured in her home in 2006 (News, 24 February 2006), are angered by media reports claiming that Christians in Nigeria have committed violence against Muslims.

“They say Christians in Africa are intolerant, Christians in Jos are intolerant, but that’s a generalisation. The fact that Jos is largely non-Muslim doesn’t mean it is Christian. You have pagans who react differently to situations, and when that happens the media is quick to say ‘Christians have done [this]’. . . These are tribal people who are reacting in the way they best know how, to the situation they’re facing.”

The Archbishop showed pictures of some of the 50 orphans who live with his family in Jos. “If you came to our prayer meetings in the morning, or particularly at night before we sleep, and you hear prayers, we will just say, ‘Lord, save us.’ We don’t take anything for granted.”

He chose not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2008, he said, because the gathering of bishops ten years before “was not ready to hear my story. In the midst of suffering, I had evangelised and produced 300 churches from 85, [but] nobody wanted to know that.

“My position was that if I could raise £5000 to attend the Lambeth Conference, that was going to be dominated by a discussion that, in my opinion, shouldn’t have even have had a front burner on the issues, I would take that £5000, [and] I have 300 orphans around me who would be so eternally grateful to God for what that money can do in their lives.”

Dr Kwashi said that at the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem, in 2008, “my story . . . was not tucked into a corner”; the plight of Christians in countries such as Nigeria and Sudan led the agenda.

“People not only wept and prayed, people showed solidarity. After that, people from GAFCON did visit Jos, did go to Sudan, [and are] still going

. . . we don’t want your money, just a visit to encourage . . . to put your hand on my shoulder and say ‘Brother, we’re with you.’ That never happened in Lambeth.”

The future of GAFCON, he said, will be focused on mission, not structures. “GAFCON may not have all the structures, but mission does not need structures. What mission needs is mission, and then for the mission to determine its own struc­tures, and I think that’s what GAFCON’s going to do.”

In Nigeria, Dr Kwashi would like to see the government instigate a “process of justice” that brings out “the evils done to people, whether they are Muslim or Christian”.

The government and politicians “must stand in the gap to show that we want to build a nation where Christians are human beings; where Christians have the same rights as any other people, and cultures are re­spected by all.

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