BY MUSA SIMON REEF
Amidst rising tensions and crises among Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims, the need for the promotion of peace and harmony was the central focus of an interfaith summit that culminated into the adoption of a constitution for the establishment of the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP).
Held from January 26-27, 2017 in Abuja, the two-day conference was organised by the Vienna-based KAICIID International Dialogue Centre that serves as a facilitator in Nigeria with the key focus of strengthening social cohesion, particularly among Christians and Muslims in the country. KAICIID is also engaged in coordinating efforts aimed at conflict resolution and reconciliation in Nigeria and other countries of the world.
With the formation of the IDFP to promote dialogue among adherents of various religions in the country, the dream for peaceful dialogue is set to be achieved, with both Christianity and Islam having equal representation in the forum. With the resolve of both groups to implement strategies towards peaceful co-existence among religious faithful, the tension and crises may have taken a backseat in the country.
The two-day conference, organised by KAICIID, came to a successful close with the formal adoption of a draft constitution for Nigeria IDFP and the inauguration of its elected Executive Secretariat to coordinate the Forum’s activities. The formation of the Forum was the highlight of the Coordinate to Achieve 2 conference (CtA2) that focussed on ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Interreligious Dialogue in Nigeria,’ as a follow-up to the first meeting (CtA1) which took place in September 2016 in Abuja. At CtA1 conference, participants had developed an action plan to promote dialogue as a prerequisite for peace and development, and lay the ground for the establishment of an interfaith dialogue platform in the country.
In a bid to further its objectives of realising interfaith unity among Nigerians, the success of the September 2016 summit, which was hinged on the need to establish a dialogue forum, led to the convening of the second conference aimed at consolidating the vision of interreligious dialogue in the country. It is on the basis of broadening the frontiers for interreligious harmony that KAICIID, with local partners in Nigeria, Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) and The Kukah Centre, staged a second conference on the theme: ‘Coordinate to Achieve 2-Inclusive and Sustainable Interreligious Dialogue in Nigeria.’
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, called on the Federal Government to spare no efforts in bringing hate preachers to books, arguing, “We cannot be preaching one thing and be doing another. Agreeing to talk is not the issue, what we need is to implement what is agreed. We must tell ourselves the truth irrespective of the religious divide we find ourselves. Those who don’t want peace are out to cause trouble. We must rally round the government to assist them deal with the enemies of peace in this country. Those who are encouraging violence are not following the true teaching of Christianity and Islam.”
Calling on Nigeria’s religious leaders to shun violence, the Sultan declared that considering the respect and authority enjoined by religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian leaders should be in the forefront of promoting peace through respect for one another.
The Sultan commended KAICIID for its immense support for promoting religious harmony in Nigeria, stressing, “I commend KAICIID for its support and other religious leaders who are working hard to achieve peace in our country. All religions preach peace and all Nigerian Muslims are desirous of the peace and stability of our country Nigeria. He tasked the IDFP to commence the process of formal registration and to also reach out to prominent persons who may contribute to achieve the IDFP’s goals, stressing, “I am ever willing to be of support to IDFP and its organs in order to open closed doors.”
Expressing hope that the strategies for the promotion of peace shall be implemented by the IDFP, the monarch reminded the participants that the best of strategies would remain ineffective unless put into practice. He, therefore, tasked the IDFP Secretariat to rise up to the challenge and promote peaceful co-existence among Nigeria’s religious groups. Speaking at the formal launching of the IDFP, the Prelate of Methodist Church, Bishop Samuel Chukwuemeka Uche, lauded the idea behind the setting up of the IDFP. He said the formation of the Forum in Nigeria represents a milestone in the nation’s march for realising peace and harmony among Muslims and Christians.
The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev Samson Ayokunle, who was represented at the occasion by Bishop Steven Adegbite, stressed on the need for peace, adding that nothing should be considered too great to be done for peace. He warned people that are engaged in killings in the name of religion to stop, as “no one has the power to take life but God.” He promised to collaborate with the Sultan to promote peace and understanding among Christians and Muslims in the country.
The Bishop of Sokoto, Rev. (Dr) Matthew Hassan Kukah, stressed the need for genuine peace, just as he called on religious leaders to preach peace to their congregations at all times. He identified inter-religious visits as a strong measure in encouraging unity among adherents of the major religions in Nigeria. As preachers, Bishop Kukah added, clerics are well positioned to promote peace and harmony among their followers.
KAICIID’s Head of Delegation, Abderrahman El-Yessa, commended the fruitful interaction demonstrated during the two-day summit, just as he called on the nation’s leaders to rise up and stave off further violence. According to him, “The world is watching Nigeria. There are many challenges here in Nigeria, but with the willingness of the religious leaders to work together for peace and dialogue towards a more cohesive society, there is hope. KAICIID will continue to work hand in hand with the Nigerian stakeholders to promote peace and social cohesion in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.”
Considering the level of tensions and crises that have trailed relations among Nigeria’s adherents of the two major religions, the birth of the IDFP is a clear demonstration of commitment by KAICIID and its local partners in deepening understanding among religious and cultural barriers. There is no doubt that with KAICIID’s determination to foist an era of mutual trust among religious groups that are distrustful of one another, the barriers against killings and violence in the name of religion may have become a thing of the past.