Many people dream of bringing peace to the world. That calling, for Master of Arts in Interfaith Action student and Peacemaker Fellow Adegbola Tolu Adefi, is fraught with urgency.
Murder, rape, destruction, abduction and torment are a tragic part of everyday life in his homeland in Nigeria. The deadly fundamentalist group Boko Haram has instilled an incomprehensible fear among his people, whose lives have been plagued for centuries with religious conflict of one kind or another, he said.
Violence dominates human existence there in unimaginable ways.
“Youths are handed knives, machetes, clubs, swords and other dangerous weapons and told to begin killing ‘non-believers’ or perceived enemies without cause,” Adefi explained. “A bright, promising and perfectly peaceful day can turn deadly with the slightest disagreement in the market or any neighborhood.”
Adefi, 35, grew up in relative peace in the southwest region of the country. But his uncles, who lived in northern Nigeria, often expressed frustration at the insecurity and violence they experienced.
“One often hears or reads of truckloads of corpses being transported to the home state of victims of crisis after the crisis abates,” he said. “Surviving family members often join them, finding themselves living as refugees with no possessions and no source of livelihood.”
Since 2009, Boko Haram has massacred 117,000 Nigerians, including 10,000 last year. More than 1.5 million people have fled the insurgency, which is reportedly funded through bank robberies, extortion, ransom demands, sieges on Nigerian armed forces and according to some analysts, help from other militant groups.
Adefi was raised in Oyo State in southwest Nigeria, the son of devout Pentecostal Christians. His family attended church service at least three times a week and – because religion plays a very important role in the formation of society in Africa – proselytizing is a normal occurrence in the religious landscape of the people, he explained. Christians and Muslims often embark on religious activities aimed at converting members who are either committed fully, partially or non-aligned to other faiths.
In high school, he spread Christianity at nearby communities and frequently went on missionary journeys. He later went on to college and completed his M.A. in Sociology of Religion at Ekiti State University.
Today, he preaches interfaith instead.
“I grew up with the belief in the universal and exclusive supremacy of Christian revelation and salvation in Christ alone,” he said. “Nevertheless, I have come to understand that holding on to a view such as this in a progressively secular world could engender conflict among the dwellers of the world. While my faith in Christ remains firm and solid, I now acknowledge and respect the religious stance of other people as being their unique experience without being judgmental and hostile to them.”
Hostility, he explained, comes in the form of violence but also emotional and psychological viciousness.
“I have therefore learned to be emotionally and psychologically compassionate to people of all religious and social spheres,” he said.
Adefi enrolled in the Master of Arts in Interfaith Action program at Claremont Lincoln University because he believes it will prepare him to fulfill his goal of making the world a safer place for all to dwell in.
“It will motivate me and provide ample opportunity for my skills to be nurtured and groomed in becoming a voice and an active player in the field of peace, conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence the world over,” he said. “It should also help keep me on track in my quest to join hands with experts in the field for engagement and collaboration in a bid to achieve the golden mandate of a peaceful universe.”
In that sense, Adefi is drawn by the capacity of dialogue and collaboration in resolving conflict.
In addition to his studies at CLU, Adefi speaks publicly and writes often about the need for interfaith understanding to bring about peaceful change in his country. He is also a member of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network, where he examines the dynamics of peace, conflicts, crisis resolution and other related matters.
What does he want to make of the work he is doing?
“I dream of becoming a significant player in proffering solutions to the occurrence of intolerance, wars, conflicts, crisis, injustice and oppression in my country and in the world as a whole,” he said.