(Note: Transcribed from audio recording)
Your Excellency the Governor, the distinguished highnesses and traditional chiefs, service chiefs, religious leaders, the leadership of the Plateau Peace Building Agency, partners, friends and the … of peace, good morning and salama alaikum. Please forgive me, all protocols observed.
I would like to acknowledge especially representatives of three organizations with which the United States Government and the U.S. Embassy work very very closely together here in plateau and throughout your wonderful country of Nigeria. First is the Plateau Peace Building Agency. We work closely with Joseph and the team in giving grants to this organization to work for peace and dialogue here in Plateau state. And we are excited to be doing that now and will do so in the future. Also I want to acknowledge the United States Institute for Peace [USIP], which is an agency in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. government and the American people support to advance the cause of peace and justice and dignity for all people around the world. And USIP is a very special organization that does tremendous work here in Plateau, throughout the middle belt, the north of Nigeria, the south of Nigeria, USIP works for peace in your country. I also want to acknowledge one of the outstanding nongovernmental organizations that the United States hosts and funds – Mercy Corp. Mercy Corp is active in the middle belt, the north east of Nigeria doing lifesaving work to save lives of Nigerians. So please recognize Mercy Corp. And if you will forgive me I also have a very special notice to say that our team from the U.S. Embassy has two very special sons of Plateau who are along with us today. One is Sani Mohammed and the other is Nengak Gondyi. My two friends Sani and Nengak represent communities both Muslim and Christian here in Plateau and Jos and they’ve come with me on both of my trips to your city. So I’m happy to bring back two of your native sons.
Let me get to my main point. We gathered here today in recognition of a very simple idea, there is nothing more sacred than a human life. A human life is very sacred whenever it’s lost and it’s a terrible tragedy whether that of a farmer, a herder, a Muslim, a Christian, a Berom or a Fulani. A loss of life is a tragedy. In just the past three weeks I have travelled twice, here to Plateau, to Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger states. And in each of these places I have seen the costs of the terrible violence that has touched so many people in rural parts of Nigeria. Innocence has been killed, communities torn apart, people displaced from their homes and families are mourning their loved ones. So the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. government and the American people condole with you in these tragedies you have suffered and we vow to work with you to end this kind of violence in the future.
You know, but I have seen people at the same time as I have witnessed tragedy. I have seen people who work for peace. I have met those who’ve put their lives on the line to protect others in their community. And here with us today, I would like to introduce to you one of Nigeria’s heroes, a very special person who has touched my life and indeed touched my heart in my visit three weeks ago today to Plateau state. I would like to introduce to you the chief Imam of Inyar village in Barkin Ladi LGA and if I could please ask the Hausa Imam, 83 years old of Inyar village, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar to please stand and get a round of applause. I’m going to tell you a story about this wonderful Imam and the lifesaving work he has done because I think many people in this state and in fact in your country don’t know about this extraordinary man, so today you get to learn about who he is.
It was just over a month ago that the village of Inyar was invaded by armed men. They came early in the morning on motor bikes armed with AK47s, machetes and with those machetes they killed people. They burned down houses. Of a village of one thousand people eighty four lost their lives. Women and men and children who perished because of the hatred and the evilness of young men who were misguided in their views of the world. But alongside this terrible tragedy, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar and his fellow Imam, the assistant Fulani Imam of this village, did some extraordinary things. When people started shooting and hacking, people went running by the hundreds to save their lives and two hundred and sixty two people ran to the mosque of the town; they went inside. They were mostly Christians, mostly Berom, and the Imam and his assistant Imam brought them into the mosque and shut the door. Imam Abdullahi brought people into his house next door and shut the door and they stood outside. As armed men came to their doors they said you cannot come in, you will have to kill us to go inside. Imam Abdullahi got down on his knees in the dust and pleaded with these armed men to turn away, to spare the lives of innocent people, and his community, his friends that he had known for years. Christians whom he had celebrated Christmas with as they has celebrated sallah with him. Because of their friendship and their commitment, and their brotherhood and sisterhood, he risked his life and today more than three hundred people are alive because those armed men turned away. I have rarely in my life of travelling to eighty countries met a man like Imam Abdullahi. Thank you very much.
What I would like to say to you today is that those who work for peace are not of one group or another. They are not just Muslim, they are not just Christian; they are not just from group or one state. They are people who are individuals who stand up in their lives for goodness and to fight evil. This man is a challenge to all of us. Think about what you do every day in your daily life. Do you take risk for peace, would you put your life on the line to protect people from other communities? Think about what that means to us, to your country and to our world. I’m not an expert on Plateau state, but I’ve been here now twice so you know I’ve got the right to speak a little bit right? No, not really. But I know from talking to many many people that Plateau and Jos have suffered horrific violence in 2001, 2008, 2010, 12, 14 and in fact one month ago. The cycle of violence and attacks and reprisals and counter reprisals take horrific tolls on people in this state and both Christians and Muslims have been killed. That is a tragedy. But the reminder for us today and the foundation of what I want to say to you is that working for peace can save lives. And that is the most sacred thing in the world. This is a very religious country. A country of faith where children of Abraham, brothers and sisters who follow two of the world’s great religions Christianity and Islam, submit themselves to God to worship and prayer each week, each day. And they submit themselves to work for peace and love and justice. But sometimes we see that there are people who really put their faith into action. For me that’s a reminder that the most important think we can do is to work for these eternal principles. My hope is that for all of us we can be worthy of the risk that these two Imams and many others because there are other stories of Christians as well as Muslims, pastors and average people who work for peace in Plateau state. My friend Joseph and I have heard these stories of different peace builders and my hope is that each of us can do our part to work for peace, to find common ground and to bring an end to the violence. So let me make four brief points.
First, on behalf of the U.S. government and the Embassy and our people, I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence that has claimed innocent lives here in Plateau state, across the middle belt and indeed across Nigeria. The killing of innocents is simply not acceptable whether in Plateau, in Zamfara, Benue, Borno, Delta, [or] Taraba. We as people of faith say we submit ourselves to God. We love God but some people don’t submit themselves to God; they submit themselves to hate. They don’t live by the love of God and their brothers and sisters but by the love of hate.
What we must do is secondly we must commit that these criminals who commit these terrible acts upon mankind must be caught and prosecuted. We must break the cycle of impunity that fuels grievances on all sides and leads to reprisal attacks. So we call for effective law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminal actors who do evil things. It’s absolutely essential that those arrested promptly face charges in court. Because bringing criminal actors to justice is the first step to end the violence. This is a crisis, it needs a crisis response. Communities on all sides must know that they can get justice without taking up arms themselves which creates all sorts of other problems. But you know that will not be enough.
The third point is that we must work towards addressing the long term drivers of conflict and tension in Plateau, across the middle belt, in Borno, around this country, in the south in the delta. Because here in the middle belt we see that the competition for land and resources will get more intense in the years to come. I’m not sure everyone realizes in Nigeria, but your country’s population is growing about the fastest of any country in the world. In thirty years, only thirty years – the population of Nigeria will go from one hundred and ninety million people today to over four hundred million people. 190 to 400 [million] and much of this population growth will be across the north and middle belt of the country. So the challenges we face over land and resources aren’t going to get easier, they’re going to get harder. And for your children and your grandchildren the challenges they face about resources and potential violence in their communities will be even greater. Can you imagine that? This is a crisis and we must focus on it for long term good of Plateau state and all of Nigeria. Nigeria will need serious solutions to these underlying problems and that requires different groups, farming communities, herding communities and others to work together with government to find solutions that provide a future for everyone. My hope for your country is that people will think about this, talk about this, and work together to find solutions for this now because the state and the country needs it so much.
My final point is that I and we call on every one of you, everyone in this room and everyone who watches this on TV or video. We call on everyone in this room and leaders across Nigeria to speak out for peace and help prevent reprisals. Because for all of us, our words matter, our actions matter. Each of us has a role to play in tamping down violent tensions between communities of all kinds. Ultimately for you as leaders here in Plateau, it’s in your hands – not someone else’s hands. It’s in your hands to ensure that this tragic violence does not descend into broader ethnic and religious fighting and a cycle of reprisals. We must make sure that fighting does not eat away at the fabric of Nigeria, the multi-religious and multi-ethnic tolerance that is such an important part of your great nation. There is a saying in my country in the United States of America, indeed it’s our national model; in Latin it is E pluribus unum, out of many one. Out of many one, out of many ethnicities, many religions, many groups and tribes and creeds and regions we form one nation: the United States of America. We need to work to be united. That’s something the United States and Nigeria have in common. We are two of the most populous democracies in the world and our challenge as democracies reporting and representing the will of our people is that we work for a united country. A country where people in every region have human dignity, opportunity and hope. When you think about the people who do these terrible acts in Plateau, in Borno, in Zamfara, in Benue, in Delta, people who commit terrible crimes, often times these young people they don’t have hope. They don’t see opportunity and they don’t see a better life. We need to care about these people because these people are us and our future is tied up with them. Again it’s in your hand to make it so.
Finally let me close by coming back to Imam Abdullahi Abubakar. It needs to be a reminder to us that whether you’re 18 or 83 you can make a difference for peace. Every day is sacred; every life is sacred. One of my favorite songs from a musical in the United States called Rent is called Seasons of love and what it means is that there are five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes in a year, 525,600 minutes. Do you make every minute sacred in working for peace and justice and brotherhood, sisterhood and love? That is our challenge. My hope for you today is that we can think about the importance of what we say and translate it into actions. In my faith tradition it says, “do not just be hearers of the word but be doers also.” We are called to work for peace whether we work in government, in faith communities, as traditional chiefs, as fathers, mothers, teachers and others, we are called to work for peace and a better world every minute of every day because ultimately as people of faith here in Nigeria we are called to submit to God and to love God and love our neighbor with all our hearts.
I encourage you on behalf of the United States government and the people of America, I want to thank you for being here. We are your partner in peace and we want to look for ways to enforce and help you to make your state, your country and the world a more peaceful and just place. Thank you and God’s speed in all your effort.