People from across Nigeria united Monday for a 10-day walk to celebrate peace and promote the rebuilding of a school that symbolizes reconciliation.
The first of its kind peace walk commemorates the first anniversary of the Takum Peace Agreement, signed Nov. 28, which ended years of hatred, violence and death caused by a land dispute. The conflict destabilized communities, displaced families and caused starvation and death throughout the area.
"By the time the papers were signed, this crisis had already claimed dozens of lives," said Bulus Ali, Nigeria Partner Contact for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
"But since the Peace Agreement was enacted on November 28, 2006, the guns have been silent. Displaced persons have returned to their communities. Life is returning to normal."
Participants gathered in Takum early Monday morning to begin the first full day of the walk. They will travel from church to church each of the ten days, stopping to preach messages of peace in each town in the evening and resting at churches along the way, according to the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
In addition to churches, the route will include a stop at the government house where walkers will meet the Governor of Plateau State. Plateau State neighbors Benue and Taraba States which lie on Nigeria's Eastern coast.
"There is a lot of excitement about the potential of the Peace Walk to foment change," said Ali. "Ethnic differences can either be a blessing or a curse. They are a curse when complete loyalty to the group is blind.
"But they are a great blessing when the diversity of rich cultures adds to community – the knowledge, customs, languages, and skills for each ethnic group contribute to the fabric of community life."
The Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation Committee (PJRC) of the Reformed Ecumenical Council of Nigeria (RECON) organized the peace walk. The Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria (CRCN) is a member of RECON.
The peace walk organizers were critical in last year's peace agreement. During the peace process, local pastors brought together Kuteb and Tiv tribal leaders along with law enforcement representatives and members of state and local governments for a series of discussions that resulted in the peace.
The walkers and their congregations hope to raise funds to rebuild Mbiya School, a K-12 facility in Taraba that was burned during the unrest. The Nigerian churches' goal is to raise 5 million Naira (US $42,371) for rebuilding. PJRC also plans to pressure the local and state government to return the Mbiya school property, seized during the violence, to church ownership.
Prior to its destruction, Mbiya School educated and housed more than 1,000 primary and secondary students. Money raised through the organizers will support a joint 10-year rebuilding project.
If the event proves successful, organizers plan to hold a second, larger event in 2008 with solidarity walks across the country and perhaps the world.
"Join us in celebrating what God has done. Indeed, it is He who causes wars to cease to the ends of the earth. Pray to the God of peace that we may continue to reconcile communities' diverse cultures, and ethnicities," organizers announced.
The 10th day of the walk falls on Nov. 28 – the first anniversary of the Takum Peace Agreement. Peace walkers will return to Takum on Nov. 29 to end the 10-day walk.