I've been following the story the past couple of days of the kidnapping of Margaret Hill
in Nigeria. A three year old girl was kidnapped on her way to school and is being held for ransom. Officials are decrying the act as evil and calling for the immediate return of the girl. And while I fully agree that this is an atrocious act, I wish the full history behind this kidnapping would be part of the typical news story. This isn't just about a random kidnapping for money. This was done by what is assumed to be a disposed tribal group demanding reparations for ruined land and stolen resources. The child is the daughter of a UK citizen who has profited from the oil business in Nigeria.
Brief history here. Very, very brief. The British Empire colonized what is now Nigeria and often used force to do so. They eventually formed Nigeria from pieces of four independent kingdoms. After Nigeria gained independence, the remains of those ancient tribes vied for power and survival. Series of dictators made themselves rich by selling land belonging to other tribes but with new found oil reserves to large multinational companies. These companies (Shall, Chevron) were known to support the military regimes of these dictators and are implicated in the deaths of activists who opposed the path being taken by their country. These oil companies devastated natural environments and often (with government help) imposed forced relocations of native peoples off of oil rich lands. In the 1990's protest groups formed to speak out against the rape of the land by the oil companies. The native tribes wanted to continue in their way of life, but their fishing economy was ruined by pollution or they were forced to move to land with poor soil. They also received no wealth from the oil taken from their native lands. Early protest was peaceful and focused on diplomacy and discussion. Much of it was led by women as well. It was generally met with violence. Then more militant groups formed that used violence to end the control of the land by the oil companies. Kidnappings of oil executives involved ransom demands - so that the people of Nigeria could share in the wealth taken from their lands. Then there were bombs to destroy pipelines and cripple the multinational companies. This is the story that this kidnapping is situated in. I don't condone the violence of that act just like I don't condone the violence perpetrated by the oil companies or the dictators or the British Empire - I just want the full story told. Everything is connected as the saying goes. This event must be understood as part of a long chain of events. Perhaps then the cycles of violence can end and a better world be formed.
We are discussing this issue in church today as we examine the Parable of the Tenants and the life of Samson. In those stories we see the ugly cycles of unbroken violence. One offense is met with violence which leads to more violence and so forth. Excuses are given and revenge is demanded. It is an ingrained concept in our culture. We cheer in movies like Braveheart or The Patriot when revenge is consummated. We care less about the defeat of evil than we do about extracting punishment on someone who has hurt or offended us. And we care even less about trying to resolve differences without resorting to violence. Our imaginations are so limited and our hatred so strong that to hurt others far too often is the first and only response. Cycles are hard to break. And often those who seek a better way are silenced with violence. Christ warned his followers that they could expect as much, but still urged them to pursue the way of peace. Perhaps if his followers had listened to his words a couple hundred years ago as colonization of Nigeria began or fifty years ago when oil was discovered there, a little three year old girl would not be in such dire circumstances right now.
Update - Margaret has been released
Labels: Culture, Environment, Politics, Social Justice