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Forgiveness is incomplete without justice

In the Catholic tradition, the entire scripture is divided into three liturgical years or cycles: A, B and C. A Catholic who goes through the…

In the Catholic tradition, the entire scripture is divided into three liturgical years or cycles: A, B and C. A Catholic who goes through the cycle, may actually end reading the whole bible with much ease.

The daily bible readings are universal in their selection within the liturgical setting that no priest or preacher can alter it. This universal system as designed by the Church shows the supremacy of the Word of God over every one of us. Sometimes this system of reading the entire Bible makes me want to skip some verses or chapters of the bible if I would have my way. One of such passages is found in the last part of Mathew, chapter 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Mathew 5:43-47).

One of the most difficult challenges for me as a Pastor is preaching about forgiveness in this time of our national tragedy and grief in the wake of incessant violence. I would like to share this personal experience in order to make my point. It is about a misunderstanding between me and one of my domestic staff who was not measuring up in his work description. On one occasion, I did not respond to greetings and pleasantries from him. One day he attended Mass and the readings were about forgiveness. So he decided to do something funny and dramatic. As I was about to start preaching he stood up from the back seat and walked to the front seat so that he could look directly at me while I gave the homily. After the Mass I inquired from him why he distracted the church with his movement. His answer was this: “I needed to be sure if I would be included in the forgiveness that you would be preaching about.”

The standard set by Jesus is undoubtedly lofty but not unreasonable or unreachable. Its difficulty rather lies in application with regard to specific circumstances. The recent eruption of violence and killings in some villages in Kebbi State, is one of such circumstances. The villages in question are: Kwangirawa, Kangon Madaci; Awala; Munhaye; Unguwan Baba; Rokuwa, Danlayi, Danhayi, Mange, Unguwan Dansanda; Bankami; Unguwan Yara and Yanmaitaba. They were attacked by the blood-tasty herdsmen between 10 and 15 August, during which the villains displaced over 314 families and killed over 46 people (CAN, Kebbi Chapter).

The International Organization for Peace Building and Social Justice in its mid-year report, came to this conclusion: “The systematic killings of Christians in Nigeria especially in the north, should not be regarded as an inconsequential matter, rather it is a threat that has been proven from statistical reports. These are coordinated and strategically executed attacks that serve larger agenda of domination, land-grabbing and ethnic cleansing, among others. For over a decade, the activities of Boko Haram insurgents have topped the chart of atrocities and crimes committed in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast. However, the activities of Fulani herdsmen, bandits gunmen, and unknown gunmen as termed in the media gained prominence because more people were killed and kidnapped during attacks on villages. The attacks were mostly on Christian-dominated villages in Kaduna and Muslim settlements in Zamfara and Katsina; where farms, crops and food storage were deliberately destroyed. Many of the victims have been displaced from their home communities and are now living as refugees in several internally displaced person’s (IDP) camps.”

In all of these mayhems and destruction, Kaduna State stands out as the place where most of the atrocities are carried out with impunity. It has become the state where the malicious acts of the Fulani have give rise to five big IDP camps alongside the smaller ones. A vast number of villages have been attacked and abandoned entirely. In kajuru Local government villages like Idanu; Tudun Doko, Dutsen Gora, Unguwan Guza, Bakin Kogi, Itisi, Araha1, Araha2, Unguwan Tanko, Udu, Ungwan Goshi, Unguwan Dantata, Maigizo were attacked between 20 and 23 May, 2020. Those villages have since remained deserted of their former inhabitants. In the past eight months about 2,538 persons have been killed, 802 kidnapped while about 487 persons have been injured. A total of 123 villages have been overrun  by local terrorists in Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna and Kebbi states (PSJ Data Team). The list is endless.

When all is said and done, it must be acknowledged that while forgiveness is most desirable, it cannot, however, be achieved without justice. As Everett L. Worthington  (a La Salette missionary in the US), once asserted, forgiveness and justice go together: “Forgiving changed our emotional experience, but it did not affect our desire for seeing the perpetrator caught and brought to trial. Justice often actually works to promote, not undermine forgiveness. Isn’t it easier to forgive a convicted and punished criminal than someone who gets off scot-free? When we are harmed, we experience a sense of injustice. This is called the “injustice gap.” The bigger the injustice gap, the harder an offense is to forgive, and the stronger the negative emotions are. If the offender does anything to help balance the books, the injustice gap is narrower and forgiveness is easier.” For all the communities left homeless and in peril right now, forgiveness in itself will not insufficient without justice.


Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow. (omeizaojapah85@gmail.com)