Nigerian Oblates: Seeking Peace Over Land Conflict

By Fr. Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI      Originally Published on the Missionary Oblate’s JPIC Blog   

 Contributing Editor- SCH. Michael Tembo OMI.

Fr. Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI(Nigerian Oblate Fr Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI writes about how Oblates and local parishes are responding to the ongoing conflict between Fulani herdsmen and the Tiv Farmers over use of grazing land reserve. Fr. Cornelius is currently doing parish ministry in the Nigeria.)
Re-divergence in Mission is something that cannot be avoided, especially when human life and dignity is threatened. In the words, of Saint Eugene De Mazenod: “ The sight of these evils has so touched the hearts of certain priests, zealous for the glory of God, men with an ardent love for the Church, that they are willing to give their lives, if need be, for the salvation of souls” – OMI Preface (1825 Manuscript). Surely, passion and zeal for souls always pushes men and women of good will to be the voice of the affected.
 
The conflict between Fulani herdsmen and the Tiv Farmers over use of grazing land reserve is a major concern for local community in Benue state. The Tiv people depend on agriculture, while Fulani are active herdsmen. Unfortunately the tension over land between Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers has resulted in conflict that has led to loss of lives, families internally displaced and properties destroyed. This is the story of the Nigerian people but it is affecting us as well, especially the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their collaborators ministering in Nigeria.  Fr Ali Nnaemeka Cornelius, OMI, as missionary has this to say: 
 
“Our very first contact with the refugees Nigerian Oblate mission has always had contact with the poor in multiple faces, but the recent challenges raised by the recent ethnic clashes in Nigeria have brought us into contact with yet another group of poor people. This recent development made us make a little shift from our regular activities that consisted in helping our parishioners have a decent life, access to clean water and qualitative education. For this, we have in the very recent months, had to face few new challenges. This situation, this deplorable situation appeals to us to do in our power by word and example, to rekindle the flame of faith and hope that seem to be dying in the heats of our brothers and sisters.
  
The above-mentioned problem first occurred in Benue State where we opened a new Oblate mission late last year. It was due to a clash between some Fulani headsmen and Tiv farmers. Even though these two groups have lived well together for a long period of time, they have developed a new hostile relationship that left many Tiv farmers homeless. The problem is over planting and grazing lands. The people ran away from their villages due to the violence. On arriving at the city of Makurdi, they were stranded and having nowhere to go, had to take refuge in schools and other public buildings. 
 
Those who took refuge in our territory, Northern Bank, Makurdi, were almost abandoned to themselves. And with the aid of our parishioners from Oblate parish, we had to provide the few basic necessities we could afford. We built the only comfort house that the thousands of them could use. We provided in our own little way to their feeding and other medical needs. And some of our parishioners opted to take care of the educational needs.
  
Our other contact with these victims of ethnic clashes was in Jos. The Oblate parish in Jos is made up of different ethnic groups. These people who though with some history of conflicting cohabitation have in the recent decades had a healthy relationship till some few months when for a dispute on land ownership, two ethnic groups – The Bace known as the Rukubas fought their neighbor the Miangos. This conflict displaced thousands of our parishioners. Many lost their property, their houses and their relatives. In this very conflict, we were the major actors, knowing that both groups were our parishioners. We also provided them with food material, beddings and some basic necessities according to our own capacity as a growing mission.

This is our recent challenge in a country where conflict seems to be arising every now and then and in every here and there. Encouraged by the support of our brother Oblates and men and women of goodwill, ‘We will labour and spare no effort with all the resources at our command to covert these affected people to see the dignity of human life and share land as their common good. This is our Mission. This is our Oblate calling.”