Baptists in Nigeria expressed thanks for a Baptist World Alliance (BWA) human rights visit to the West African country in December.
“Words are inadequate to express our appreciation to you all for putting your lives on the line to come to us. That was quite an amazing love,” said Olasupo Ayokunle, president and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
The visit was in response to widespread violence in Nigeria allegedly carried out by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that seeks to establish Shariah law in Nigeria and has claimed responsibility for some of the bombings.
The group has carried out a series of bombings and shootings against Christian churches and government facilities. Casualties have included Baptist pastors and church members.
Led by BWA director of freedom and justice, Raimundo Barreto, the team visited churches in the cities of Kaduna, Jos and Kafanchan that were affected by the violence, offering encouragement on behalf of the worldwide Baptist family.
A letter from BWA General Secretary Neville Callam to Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, was presented to Ayim Pious Ayim, a senator and secretary to the president, at a meeting at the offices of the president in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
The letter, which Barreto read aloud in the meeting, commended Nigeria as an important partner nation in the international arena, particularly in its signing of important United Nations’ instruments that seek to advance human rights and freedom.
Callam urged the Nigerian president “to ensure the protection and security of all citizens in the areas of conflict, to intensify efforts to encourage peace and reconciliation, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of the acts of wanton violence.”
Callam also appealed for “increased support for peace building programs initiated by civil society organizations and religious institutions.”
Ayim thanked the BWA for the concerns it has shown for the welfare of the country and acknowledged the important work done by Nigerian Baptists.
He stated that the government is taking all possible measures to tackle extremism and promote peace and development across the nation.
The BWA delegation participated in a two-day seminar on conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja.
The team also visited the offices of the governors of the states of Kaduna and Plateau to urge further measures that would offer protection in the conflict zones and to encourage continuous support of initiatives to promote reconciliation and peace.
A meeting was held with James Wuye, a Christian pastor, and Mohammed Ashafa, a Muslim imam, directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna, who are both internationally recognized for their interfaith peacemaking work.
The Nigerian Baptist Convention’s Ayokunle told the BWA representatives that Nigerian Baptists will follow up on the initiatives of the BWA.
Talks are already under way within the Nigerian Baptist Convention with hopes of exploring opportunities for dialogue and the building of greater understanding.
“Nigeria badly needs this at this time,” said B. Uche Enyioha, chairman of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
In July 2012, the BWA passed a resolution calling for “a peaceful ending of all violence and abuse of human rights in Nigeria” and encouraged “our Baptist sisters and brothers to continue to seek ways to promote peace and respect for all persons in Nigeria.”
The BWA appealed to the government of Nigeria at all levels to ensure safety and security for all people in the country.
Other members of the BWA delegation were Daniel Buttry, American Baptist Churches USA’s International Ministries and a member of the BWA Commission on Peace; and Rosalee Velloso Ewell, a director of the World Evangelical Alliance and a member of the BWA Commission on Baptist-Muslim Relations.
The Nigerian Baptist Convention has the largest Baptist membership in Africa, reporting 3.5 million members in some 10,000 churches. The Mambilla Baptist Convention has more than 26,000 members in more than 260 churches.
This news release first appeared at the Baptist World Alliance website.