Remarks of Consul General F John Bray – Religious Tolerance Conference Lagos

As prepared for delivery

We are together here today to recognize a simple idea: There is nothing more sacred than a human life. For that reason, we each stand committed to tolerance and understanding.  We stand committed to the freedom to practice our religions without threat of violence or intimidation.

I want to state firmly the U.S. Mission believes that every life that is lost – whether a farmer or a herder, a Muslim or a Christian, a Berom or a Fulani – is a tragedy.

In places such as Zamfara, Kaduna, and Niger, and Plateau I have seen the costs of the terrible violence that has touched so many in the rural parts of Nigeria. Innocents killed, communities torn apart, and families mourning their loved ones.

But I have also seen those who work for peace. I have met those who have put their lives on the line to protect those in their communities.  I have heard the incredible story of the Imams in Nghar village who took a courageous stand and risked their own lives to protect their Christian neighbors.

They did not do this because they were from the same ethnic group, or because they shared a common religion. They did this because the lives of their neighbors and friends are sacred.  Because each human life is sacred.

My hope is that all of us here can be worthy of the risks that these two Imams, and countless others, have taken for peace across Plateau State. 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.

I know that discussing how we can better achieve that objective is the reason you’re here. I’m so pleased that young Nigerians such as yourselves are committed to this issue.  Thank you for being here and thank you for your work.

For my part, let me mention four brief points.

First, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence that has claimed innocent lives in Plateau State and across Nigeria. The killing of innocents is simply unacceptable, and our condolences go to the families and communities who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to you.

Second, those who commit these crimes must be caught and prosecuted. We must break the cycle of impunity that fuels grievances on all sides, and leads to reprisal attacks.  We call for effective law enforcement to arrest and prosecute these criminal actors.  It is absolutely essential that those arrested promptly face charges in court.  Bringing criminal actors to justice is the first step to ending the violence.  Communities on all sides must know they can get justice without taking up arms themselves.

But that will not be enough. The third point is that we must work towards addressing some of the long term drivers of tension and conflict in Plateau and across the middle belt.  The competition for land and resources here will get more intense in years to come, not less.  Nigeria’s population is expected to double in the next thirty years, from about 190 million today to more than 400 million people by 2050.  Nigeria will need serious solutions to these underlying problems.  And that will require different groups – farming communities and herding communities alike – to work together with government to find solutions that provide a future for everyone.

Finally, we call on everyone in this room, and leaders across Nigeria, to speak out for peace and help prevent reprisals. Our words matter.  Each of us has a role to play in tamping down tensions between communities of all kinds.  It is 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 all make sure that the fighting does not eat away at the fabric of Nigeria, the multi-religious and multiethnic tolerance that makes this a great and unified nation.  There is a saying on the seal of my own country, the United States: E Pluribus Unum.  Out of many, one.  Out of many ethnicities, many religions, many groups and tribes and creeds, we form one nation.  So it has always been in Nigeria, something our two great countries share.  It is in your hands to ensure it remains so.

That’s why I am so glad to open this conversation today. This conference will touch on many important themes, and it is this work, undertaken all across the country, that can give meaning to the simple idea I mentioned at the start of my remarks: that all life is sacred.  That each life is precious.

So on behalf of the United States government, and the people of the United States, I want to thank you for being here. And I wish you gods speed in your work for peace.

Thank you.