The Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese, Most Rev. Charles Hammawa, in this interview with our correspondent, EMMANUEL AWARI, speaks on the state of the nation and other issues.
In Taraba State, many people are being displaced including Christians as a result of crisis especially in the southern and central parts of the state, how can you described this situation and what is the diocese doing to come to the aid of the affected people?
This is unpleasant in the history of the state and this country, that at this age and this time in the history of the world and civilization, we are more divided along different lines rather than working for a common course for humanity.
Unfortunately also, that other interests are baptized on religion is used as an excuse to further divide us and even to the loss of lives and destruction of property. For many of us, we thought that the crisis is ethnic, tribal and political but at the end of the day as things were unfolding, and this unfortunate events are happening, You begin to get the impression that it is not just tribal or political, but religion is part of the whole thing.
You intend to find that the people who suffer most are the Christians, though Muslims whom are peace lovers also suffer, they have been disturbed as well, but this dimension which I said is being played down by many people is still a significant part of the problem, yes, many people have been displaced. Well, we as Catholic Church have always been trying to be agent for peace. And we preach tolerance, acceptance to those who may differ from us in faith and practice.
So we have continued to do that and we will continue to do that, in terms of material or physical assistance without anyway boosting that we have done something. We are not doing in great scale but we try to reach out to as many people as possible to help them in one way or the other.
Considering the current state of our nation, what call do you have for Tarabans, federal and state governments?
The federal and state governments are the number one in terms of security, peace and development. Yes, all of us have our contributions to make. The different levels of government such as judiciary, legislative and executive should do their work for they are the ones who enact laws, let them do their work for goodness sake.
Now, we are running a democratic system of government, you go and cast your vote and elect the people that are now in need of peace, but we could not get peace, why? They are pursuing programmes that are lopsided, people are marginalized, of course, agitation would arise and if you can content then, they end up in violence. So the government must rise up to its responsibility.
For the rest of the citizens, they should complement the efforts of government. They should forget about the mentality of Nigerians of saying it is government property that should be looted and nobody wants to take care of them. We have gigantic projects, but the implementation, maintenance and sustenance become a problem, so Nigerians generally should become patriotic and do their best to collaborate with government.
Federal and state governments should not be in a loggerhead; they should be partners in progress and do what they suppose to do. The resources of this country should be well circulated, not just monopolize by one set of people which are always a tiny minority percentage compare to the majority.
How about the activities of the herdsmen?
The herdsmen, yes, the argument of saying this is my profession, of course, you cannot use such an excuse to match on people’s farms and lands and destroy all the labour that he or she has done in the name of searching for land to graze your cattle when the people that are supposed to buy and feed on them are not there. What is the point of raising those cattle so they should also be law abiding people? Let them not in the process looking for shelter for their cattle become agents of destruction of lives and occupation of other people. We believe in free movement in Nigeria and the Nigeria Constitution says you can leave anywhere; some people are using this opportunity to say we can leave anywhere while some are even taking over peoples lands. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
Peace is the major panacea for living, what is the diocese doing to take the campaign of peace to the affected areas and the state as a whole?
Well, as I have just said, we have continued to preach to our people and to all who care to hear or listen, that dialogue is the best solution on living with each other and any problem we may have as human beings; crisis or misunderstanding will always arise but what we are saying is that it must not end up in violence, conflict and destruction of lives and properties.
So we have continue to preach that and we are reaching out to our people not even to take revenge, no matter how provoked you are or felt that injustice or neglect have been done like those who are responsible for the maintaining of peace. You don’t take the law into your hands by seeking for revenge.
Yes, to be security conscious, we have preached that to them and to do the best they can to, organize themselves to be more security conscious and when the need arises to protect themselves but we have never told them to engaged in any violent conflict or seek vengeance, and of course, we said, ‘leave everything into God’s hands, for the Bibles tells us that vengeance is for God.’ We may suffer for now but at the end, God will vindicate us and we will triumph over evil, so those are things we preach to them to continue to understand and to give peace a chance.
Another key area of national development is education; can you tell us the number of schools that are established by the diocese in Taraba State?
The Catholic Church the world over engaged in social services. We feel that it is the part of the Gospel of salvation, so salvation is holistic and not just about winning souls but about the integral development and the well being of human beings. So we have engaged in providing education, I mean those who care to investigate, to study and make research, will find out that most of the schools and universities in the world were established by the church, the Catholic Church for that matter. So in our own way too in this dioceses, we have engaged in providing basic education as much as possible and secondary education to many children as possible and it is not only targeted at Catholic members; our schools are open to anybody who wants to come and we don’t discriminate.
And anybody who comes even from a different faith are not forced to embrace the Catholic Faith or Christianity, it is up to them. We have schools scattered all over the diocese, but unfortunately because of the crisis, some of them have to be closed, but at the moment, I can tell you confidently that we have almost 20 nursery and primary schools scattered across Taraba State.
We have about 13 secondary schools also scattered across the state. Our schools are not exorbitant; our target is to meet the middle class people. All what we ask from the people are enough contributions to pay teachers reasonable salaries and to maintain the school. We are not after profit making.
So we have been engaged and we are partners with government in pursuing this, because education is power and important. Most of what happened at times is because people are not educated, they don’t know their right and they cannot fight for it so we are deeply in education and we will continue to do so no matter the hard and difficulties that we face most of the time.
What contributions does the diocese make in agriculture, small and medium scales enterprises and employment?
One of the units or arms of the Catholic Church is what we call the Justice Development and Peace Commission, as the name says, we are after issues of justice, we are after issues of development both human and otherwise. And we are also concerned with issues of peace as we have been saying since the beginning of this interview.
So through this commission, we try to reach out to as many as possible and to many places as possible to provide social amenities. As I said, we help them get decent means of living. So apart from preaching the peace with different kinds of people, the commission collaborates with some Muslims and we take them to workshops to Jos, Plateau State and other places for peaceful development. We have engaged some communities amongst us in trainings about Agricultural activities so that they can advise the lower people on how to go about things.
The youths also, have been engaged, many times in workshops to empower them. The diocese of Jalingo runs two schools, one vocational which runs carpentry, masonry, electrical, basic education in English and arithmetic and even the use of communication such as social media. The same thing also with the other one, they do tailoring, knitting, bakery among others and the basic education to those who cannot go to school.
Over the years since those two schools started, we have graduated over one thousand youths who can work if they really want to work or be self employed. We have reached many people as possible and we are still reaching people and empowered the youths as many as possible.
What do you want to add which was not ask on the cause of this interview?
There can be no development without peace; people should live with one another in peace, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. So my first call is that everybody should live in peace with one another and that Nigerians should all embrace peace and forget their differences of either tribe or religion, for we are all still in the same country.
So let us be peace loving people and forget our differences, we are the same children of God, even if we address this God as Allah, Chineke, Kurmam, Dagnohe Uweng and lots more, it is all the supreme God that we are talking about and he created all of us. So live and let live. Let us know that others have same cause of pursuing means of lively hood, and so my rights and other people’s rights should not be infringed upon.
My right stops somewhere while the other person’s right begins. If we have this understanding in our minds; I don’t think we will have any problem. Another thing I want to say is that let us be moderate, we cannot take or eat all and we cannot occupy every space. Dan Maraya of Jos use to say we sleep on one side of the bed and we only wear one watch and pair of shoes at a time.
We should avoid greed and amassing of wealth, they are the root cause of all those problems confronting the country. If by any way God blesses us, let us remember those who have not gotten, but trying to grab even the little that they have, I don’t think we are behaving like human beings.