By Francesca Merlo
In Nigeria, we so often speak of the violence caused by terrorism, and forget all the other causes of violence, which spread all throughout the country and into the ocean.
Various types of violence
Speaking to Sr Bernadette Reis, Archbishop Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, notes that the violence in Nigeria is not centralised only in the North where many recent terrorist attacks have taken place. Violence is “spread” all throughout the country and has many causes, he says. We also see “ethnic clashes” and “the phenomenon of kidnapping”, which is perhaps not so noted, but is “ a continuous problem”. Off the shores, he continues, pirates in the ocean cause danger both to ships and to economic life.
The Archbishop says that he sometimes asks himself whether there might be a deeper source of violence, within the character or personality of a person. “But I do not know”, he concludes.
Since last January, more than 1200 people have been killed in rural areas of central and north-western Nigeria, victims of attacks and kidnappings by armed groups. Human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, are accusing the federal state of "inaction", and of "abandoning entire rural communities, leaving them at the mercy of armed groups".
Everybody expects the government’s interventions to be “more and more effective”, says Archbishop Filipazzi. He stresses the importance of introducing a “general enforcement of the law” in the country, explaining that “if the law is respected by everybody, in every place", the problem of the violence will be solved. It is the government's duty to protect and enforce the law, he stresses, just as it is the government's duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens. Archbishop Filipazzi stresses that it is not a question of "what ethnic group" or "what religion" someone belongs to. The root of the violence lies in the general respect of the law and general intervention of the government to respect the law, he says.
Religion and violence
Though many people claim that violence in Nigeria stems from inter-religious tension, Archbishop Filipazzi says he would be “very careful” of bringing religion up as a principal cause of violence. He explains that by blaming religion “we give the violence a moral justification, because ‘you do that in the name of God, in the name of that religion’”. Religion can, however, at times be used to cover up for forms of violece “which are not as noble as religion”, he adds, warning that “if we make the conflict a religious one, this can worsen the situation even further”.
Pope Francis and the call of the Bishops
During his Sunday Angelus, on 15 August, Pope Francis recalled the suffering of the people of the northern region of Nigeria, describing them as “victims of violence and terrorist attacks". The bishops of the country, through the voice of the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze, also addressed the government, and the Nigerian people themselves, to demand an end to the killings and the implementation of the fight against corruption.
Archbishop Filipazzi says that the local Church was very happy to hear the words of the Holy Father on August 15 and “the Nigerian bishops have asked for a period of prayer, from the 22nd August to the 1st of October”, which marks Nigeria’s National Day. He notes that just two days after Pope Francis spoke, the bishops of Kaduna – an area which suffers many acts of violence - published a Document offering advice and insight into helping stop the violence.
Archbishop Filipazzi goes on to say that though there is a lot of attention from the Catholic Church, “I do not know whether society has fully followed the intervention of the Holy Father”. ”Sometimes", he adds, "I feel that our voices are not heard at a local level”.
The Church and its Bishops are close to the people, says Archbishop Filipazzi, and “our faithful are victims of the violence”. In the Document released shortly after the Holy Father’s Angelus address, “the bishops have given some very wise indications for the future”, he says. In it, they appeal to the government and to the governor of Kaduna State to have “a more empathetic attitude”. They also appeal to the young people because “there is a danger” that amidst all this violence, the young people “forget how to live in peace”, that they be “tempted by the violence” and don’t hear the advice that comes from their parents, from the Church and from the leaders of their local communities.
Archibshop Filipazzi notes that another appeal was made to the media, that it “present the situation according to the truth”, not making room for fake news or for any form of news that could contribute to making the situation worse.. to turning people “against each other”.
Finally, Archbishop Filipazzi notes that “many people have appreciated this advice” from the Bishops, and they are “working to contribute to restoring peace in the area”.