SPEECH DELIVERED BY H.E. RT. HON. (DR.) SIMON BAKO LALONG, KSSG, THE EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF PLATEAU STATE ON THE OCCASION OF THE COMMEMORATION OF “PLATEAU FORGIVENESS DAY” 2021 & INAUGURATION OF THE INTER-RELIGIOUS COUNCIL HELD AT THE VICTORIA GOWON HALL, NEW GOVERNMENT HOUSE LITTLE RAYFIELD JOS ON 8TH FEBRUARY 2021.
- I am delighted to welcome you all to yet another historic day in our quest to foster a new future for our State as we solidify a new narrative that advances a new paradigm shift in addressing the numerous wrongs of the past.
- As a State emerging from the ashes of violence, our Rescue Administration decided to set aside February 7 of every year as Forgiveness Day. This day reminds us to imbibe and promote the culture of forgiveness as enunciated in the Holy Books. The cardinal objective of this day is to achieve enduring peace and harmony as opposed to hate, bitterness, resentment and vengeance which only leads to a vicious cycle of violence.
- On Friday last week, our Muslim brothers and sisters converged on various mosques to pray and emphasize the need for forgiveness. Yesterday, Christian faithful also offered similar prayers in churches with the Catholic Arch Bishop of Jos His Grace Mathew Ishaya Audu celebrating a mass at the Saint Louis Church to commemorate the day.
- When we first commemorated this day in 2019, I submitted that if we imbibed forgiveness, it will eclipse and bury all the wrongs of the past and move us to a new dawn by restoring confidence in our future and ensuring that generations unborn do not repeat our mistakes.
- Let me reiterate that the idea behind the Forgiveness Day is for us to reflect on where we have been; the human tragedy that befell us; the need to appreciate our present situation; and our resolve to craft the kind of a peaceful and secure society we desire.
- My administration clearly understands that many of our people have been hurt and could have also caused pain for others. Many cannot seem to erase the hurt from their mental hard drive and continue to harbour bitterness, resentment, and anger.
- The choice before us is to either continue in our anger thus spending the rest of our lives in pain and bitterness, or we can choose to be released, healed, and be set free. That is where forgiveness becomes inevitable.
- Of course, propagating forgiveness in a society such as ours can be associated with misunderstandings and misconceptions. Definitions of forgiveness may differ depending on which divide one is standing. However, the outcome of forgiveness can easily unite people and benefit everyone.
- Forgiveness does not connote weakness, tolerance for injustice or excusing evil. Forgiveness does not also mean that the act committed does not matter nor does it suggest that the offender should not bear the consequences of his actions. Indeed, such a person should be held accountable to serve as deterrence.
- At the risk of being misunderstood or even misrepresented, I am confident to tell you that forgiveness is not justice. While justice usually involves the acknowledgment of an evil deed, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment, forgiveness can take place regardless of whether justice is served or not.
- In the same vein, forgiveness does not automatically translate to trust. On the contrary, while forgiveness is something that should be freely given, trust however must be earned through consistent truth-telling and dialogue over a period of time.
- As a Governor who wishes to be remembered as a peacemaker long after I leave office, the approach of my administration is to pursue Restorative Justice side by side with Retributive Justice in order to right the wrongs of the past.
- In this regard, we have taken several policy steps to mitigate the risk of a return to violent conflicts as well as tackle the growing wave of criminality in our State. Apart from setting up the Plateau State Peace Building Agency, we have strengthened Operation Rainbow and reviewed the criminal administration law.
- Last year, I signed into law the Bill on Kidnapping, land grabbing, cultism and other related violent crimes to ensure that criminals are not left unpunished. Indeed, our determination to arrest and prosecute criminals and trouble makers in the state remains unwavering.
- The Plateau State Peace Building Agency on the other hand has been working assiduously to entrench the ideals of sustainable Peace through dialogue, advocacy and strategic engagements with a wide range of stakeholders at the State and community levels.
- This is why the Plateau Peace Agency has held over 87 multi-level dialogue sessions and more than 40 outreaches across 17 Local Governments of the State in order to promote the culture of Peace among communities that had once fought each other.
- Despite the efforts and modest successes recorded at stemming the tide of ethno-religious violence, Plateau State is still in dire need of healing. Our people have remained somewhat divided along ethno-religious or tribal lines due largely to the experiences of yesterday. Yet, we have a golden opportunity to open a new leaf by consolidating on the gains of our efforts within the last six years.
- While we cannot claim that all issues in the heart of the crises have been resolved, we have in our hands the tools that can help midwife the rebirth of a new and united Plateau that is at Peace with itself and neighbours.
- The stakes are quite high and the need to work in concert through the forging of robust alliances has never been this urgent. The age-old maxim says we either work together as a united front to win or we perish as fools. We have no reason to choose anything below peace.
- That is why today we are inaugurating the reconstituted Plateau State Inter-religious Council, a body made up of highly respected religious leaders and experts in the field of conflict mediation and peace building.
- The inauguration of this non-partisan body is a further demonstration of our administration’s commitment to repairing the broken social fabric of our society through the provision of a structured platform for religious, community, youth and women leaders to play active roles in fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between citizens regardless of ethnic and religious differences.
- It is expected that working closely with the Plateau State Peace Building Agency, the State Inter-religious Council will critically think through issues and build consensus on challenges that threaten freedom, tolerance and peace.
- The Council will adopt a flexible and confidential format in which even controversial issues can be discussed; assumptions tested and ideas generated. Through joint analysis and structured interfaith dialogue, voices from divergent communities can come up with new ideas and approaches that will help enhance resilience and social cohesion.
- In addition, I hope this platform provides a channel through which religious leaders can offer honest, non-partisan and informed counsel on critical matters and present their recommendations to government and other policy makers at all levels.
- I will like to thank the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Inter-religious Council Rev. Prof. Pandang Yamsat, former COCIN President and His Royal Highness Alh. Sambo Mohammed III, Emir of Wase and Chairman JNI, Plateau State and other members for accepting to serve. All Members of the Council have been carefully chosen based on their track record of integrity, honesty, peace drive and patriotism.
- The State Inter-religious Council is to be guided by the following terms of reference:
- Promote the culture of interfaith Dialogue as a viable mechanism for peaceful co-existence, understanding and religious tolerance in Plateau state.
- To work with different faith communities and other organizations that work across faith lines to expand respect for religious pluralism and freedom of religion or belief in Plateau state.
- To offer advisory services to the State Government on matters of religious practice.
- To deliberate on reported cases of religious conflicts and proffer urgent solutions for government’s intervention.
- To work closely with relevant agencies of government to improve social cohesion as well as promote the agenda of Peace on the Plateau through healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
- The Interreligious Council will also play an Advisory Role to the Peace Building Agency while the Coordinating Secretariat is to be headed by the Director General of the Agency Mr. Joseph Lengmang alongside the following:
- Barr. Auwal Abdullahi
- Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam
- Rev. Fr. Blaise Agwom
- Hon. Ahmed Muhammad Nazif
- My expectation is that through the work of this council, our citizens would learn to listen to each other, understand one another, forgive, tolerate and above all, have respect for the diverse religious and social beliefs that exist in our society.
- As I conclude, I am directing the Council to support the Peace Building Agency in finding a lasting solution to renewed herder-farmers clashes in some parts of the State such as Bassa where from last week till yesterday night, we have reports that people have been killed in attacks and reprisals.
- I have already directed security agencies to go after those behind the acts and bring them to justice. This must stop.
- May God give us the grace to be our brother’s keepers, forgive and live in peace with one another.
[MEMBERS RISE TO BE INAUGURATED]
- It is now my singular honour to inaugurate you as members of the Plateau State Inter-religious Council to the Glory of God and for the peace, unity and progress of Plateau State.
- God bless Plateau State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG,
Executive Governor, Plateau State.
8th February 2021.