Churches in Nigeria are “suffering” but are “determined and full of faith”, the Archbishop said during a BBC World Service special on the country’s prospects for peace and prosperity.
Transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s interview with BBC World Service’s Newsday for its special programme on the Nigerian economy
BBC World Service Newsday interview, Monday 6 January 2014, approx. 7.30am
Interviewer: Just tell us a bit about your history with Nigeria.
Justin Welby: Well, I first went to Nigeria in I think either the end of 1978 when I was in the oil industry and visited there for several years, working on a particular project there; and then have been going back quite regularly over the last, many years now as a clergyman working in areas both of reconciliation and also issues of development in the Delta in the north and in the Middle Belt.
Interviewer: Archbishop, how big a deal is the problem of security in Nigeria, because you regularly speak to people because of course there’s an insurgency in the north.
JW: Well, I think what we heard illustrates a very typically Nigerian response to this. There was the courage, the determination, the realism, but also the sort of vigorous approach, which means that people are not deterred by it. It’s a real problem, a very serious problem; people don’t travel so much at night, and the sort of violence is used to intimidate, as the Finance Minister was saying, to try and intimidate her. But we also heard in those two interviews the reality of the Nigerian determination, which is not to be overcome by that.
Interviewer: And with colleagues you’ve been speaking to in northern Nigeria, because quite often it’s very difficult to get information from northern Nigeria, especially in the far north-east where there are troubles. What are you hearing from there?
JW: Well I think that’s a very different and distinct issue, which. . .
Interviewer: Absolutely, I was just speaking about security in general, and that is another aspect which we should address.
JW: Yep. The north-east is facing a significant insurgency, and everybody’s aware of that and the fighting there has been quite vigorous, and the reaction from different people has been very varied. There’s a good deal of nervousness about what is happening, but it also seems to be contained much more so perhaps than 18 months, 2 years ago, when people were talking about bombing and so on spreading down through Kaduna and to Abuja and further south. But, from what I’m. . . my contacts in the north, the churches are suffering but are determined, they’re full of faith, and so is Jesus Christ. The Muslim leaders, many of the Muslim leaders, are hanging on in there and doing what they need to do. It’s a very volatile situation indeed.
Interviewer: I’d just like to bring you a comment regarding northern Nigeria and the presence of Boko Haram. . . ‘How can Nigeria become an economic powerhouse when Boko Haram are busy causing calamities on its people.’ How much of it is a deterrent to Nigeria’s prospects of becoming this economic superpower?
JW: If I may say so, I think the problem with that comment is that it’s looking at a map with too small a scale. Northern Nigeria is a very very long way from Lagos, and a very long way from the Middle Belt. And we’re talking not northern Nigeria but north-eastern Nigeria in particular. North-western is an ethnically, and in many ways religiously, slightly different kettle of fish, and so is the south-west and the south, south where the oil is, is yet another area, and Lagos is its own city state in a very powerful way. So, yes it is a very serious problem. Any area where there’s war and killing is an absolute tragedy. And the attacks on the Christian population there are very severe, the attacks on Muslim leaders are very severe, and on government figures. But, it is not holding back the south. If you look at most of Nigeria, the south of Nigeria in particular, as an independent country it is growing at a rate that defies description. The economy there is more vigorous than one can describe.
Interviewer: Archbishop, perhaps as Primate it’s your job to be optimistic, but let’s be realistic, let’s have some realism from you. What do you think Nigeria’s genuine prospects are?
JW: Well, I’m not a natural optimist; a lot of people say I’m a sort of Eeyore character, rather than Tigger. But I think that if you. . . you’re there, you know that if you’re in Nigeria it is an optimistic nation. I think if one’s realistic about it, one has to say, yes, there are very very significant threats to its future as an economic powerhouse. But my own instinct now, with well over 30 years of working there – and seeing it in the business area as well – is the extraordinary talents of its people, the remarkable determination of many of its institutions, above all its faith institutions – the Anglican Church an extraordinary powerhouse there – is capable of overcoming these difficulties. Yes, there are huge difficulties, but if I was a betting person, I would put my money on Nigeria succeeding and not failing.
Interviewer: [question from listener] ‘What sort of role do you think the big oil companies have to play in things like ending unrest and just helping develop the Nigerian economy in general?’
JW: It’s a very perceptive question and a very complicated one. Their role has changed dramatically over the last 20 or 30 years as they’ve become more sophisticated in recognising their position in the country. I think one of the dangers, and there’s a lot of academic work on this, is the oil companies get sucked in to trying to be an alternative form of the state, which they should not be. And it’s really important that they act as good citizens with a clear sense of commitment to local communities. I think one of the big needs, in the Delta in particular, is for the reinvention of how they contribute to the communities. And that’s a really difficult thing to do, but it’s very very important, because it would take away some of the power of the bunkerers.
Interviewer: Anyone who visits Nigeria and looks on the streets of Lagos, for example, will find out pretty quickly that religion is a big deal for Nigeria. What sort of role do you think religion – not just Christianity, but Islam as well – what sort of role do you think it’s had to play in the country over the last 50 years, since independence.
JW: It has two very distinct roles. One is that the religious organisations and charities have been part of the glue that’s held the country together. We need to remember that in 2014 it’s 100 years since north and south Nigeria were put together by the British, in the colonial era. The religious organisations are part of the most functional structures within the country. Secondly, however, religion has from time to time been used as a hook on which to hang much more complex conflicts. And they may be ethnic, economic; a Roman Catholic Archbishop said to me some years back that conflict in Nigeria is a cooking part resting on three stones, which is: ethnicity; economy – economic depravation; and religion. But it’s not all religion, and it’s easy to blame it; and it’s often used in a malevolent way.