Mr Abderrahman El Yessa was the Head of Delegation for the Vienna-based International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) during the recent two-day summit in Abuja. The summit, which was attended by no fewer than 100 representatives from Nigeria’s religious, traditional and community based organisations (CBOs) culminated in the passage of the constitution for the Interfaith Dialogue Forum of Peace (IDFP). He spoke on the roles KAICIID is playing to promote interfaith unity and peaceful co-existence among adherents of various religious groups in Nigeria, among others.
What have you been doing before joining KAICIID International Dialogue Centre?
I joined KAICIID only a few months ago to coordinate its country programmes in four focus regions (Nigeria, Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria and Myanmar) that are facing issues pertaining to interreligious coexistence. In the previous period, I worked for almost 12 years with UNDP in different countries, including Palestine, Tunisia, Togo, and Mauritania on governance issues, crisis prevention, peace building, and democratic transitions. Before joining the UN system, I worked for the Mauritanian Government as Human Rights and Civil Society expert, and co-founded a local NGO working on poverty alleviation and inclusive finance in marginalized areas. In parallel, I was teaching public law at the Nouakchott University and was active as human rights activist in the early 1990s.
What are the major issues that have attracted KAICIID to Nigeria?
Nigeria is maybe the most important African country, not only at the economic level, but also from a political point of view. Therefore, its stability will have a huge influence on the stability of the continent itself. Nigeria is one of the most active members of the regional and even global fora and organizations at various levels, including ECOWAS and the African Union. On the religious side, Nigeria is one of the countries that have experienced a large scale insurgency in the recent years, with the Boko Haram attacks, which represents a challenge for the peaceful coexistence between the followers of the different faith traditions represented in the country, mainly the Muslim and Christian communities. This is the reason why the country is considered by KAICIID as a very important place to promote interreligious dialogue, diversity, and peaceful coexistence, according to its mandate.
What did you know about the situation in Nigeria before KAICIID was set up here and what kind of sources formed your decisions?
We are following the situation in Nigeria from our mandate perspective, which is to promote tolerance, interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence around the world, and more particularly in the crisis or conflict contexts. To this end, we are regularly in touch with the government and public institutions, as well as with a large range of religious and community leaders, including at the highest level. We are implementing our activities in close cooperation and partnership with all these stakeholders, as a contribution to their own strategies and action plans.
What is the conference about and how did you select your target audience that makes up the participants?
The aim of the conference was to agree on the launch of the newly established Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP), as a national platform tasked to promote dialogue and mutual understanding among the main faith traditions in the country. This aim was the result of a participatory process during a first conference in September 2016. Our efforts now focus on agreeing on the constitution of the Forum and on the priority action plan for the coming period. The participants have been selected in close cooperation with Nigerian stakeholders, including our framework partners in the country (ICPR, Kukah centre and IMC). The purpose was to have an inclusive participation, reflecting the religious and regional landscape in the country.
What informs the theme you discuss?
We are working closely with the members of the platform and consider the needs and suggestions that are brought to our attention. KAICIID is represented in Nigeria through or country expert who is experienced both in the country’s religious landscape and history and who has supported peace and mediation efforts for many years. With his support and the support of our partners, we aim to consider pressing issues and themes of the Nigerian society in the context of interreligious dialogue.
What specifically are you doing to foster peace among the religious groups in Nigeria?
As an external partner, our aim is to provide the required support to the Nigerian stakeholders to create a safe space for inter-faith dialogue to promote peace in the country. To this end, we are providing a financial and technical support at different levels, including (i) supporting the establishment of an inclusive, operational and sustainable dialogue platform, (ii) building the capacities of the religious actors to contribute to use inter-faith dialogue to this end and (iii) implementing pilot initiatives contributing to reduce tensions in the most troubled areas in the country.
With regards forging common grounds for peaceful co-existence, what is your assessment of Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim leaders?
We are very happy to work with the Christian and Muslim religious leaders in the country and we would like to thank them for their strong commitment and active contribution to reduce tensions and promote mutual understanding among their constituencies. We also are very impressed by their willingness to work together as brothers and sisters to overcome the existing challenges and create hope. This is something that we never saw in other contexts to such an extent. Africa and Nigeria could, in this regard, give a good example to the rest of the world.
Beyond organising the conference, how do you measure its impact on the larger Nigerian society?
This is an excellent question, as it is always very difficult to measure the impact of peace building initiatives. Unlike infrastructure that could be measured immediately, measuring the impact of ‘soft’ activities is indeed more complex and requires more time to be able to see the first results. This is why we are focusing on the sustainability of our interventions, so as to avoid to support only a few meetings that will not lead to concrete outcomes and contribute to change the daily life of the Nigerians. This is also why we are linking the support that we are providing to the coordination of the interreligious activities at the national level with the concrete initiatives to be implemented at the local level.
How does KAICIID embark on the evaluation of its impact?
KAICIID has a strong monitoring and evaluation system that helps the organization to evaluate on a regular basis the impact of its interventions around the world. This framework refers to the whole results chain, including the outcomes to which we are contributing, and the outputs that we are committed to achieve, using a set of concrete indicators, targets and baselines.
What do you intend to do after this conference?
The next steps will be to help the newly established Nigerian Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP) to start coordinating and implementing its activities throughout the country. To this end, we have already prepared with the concerned stakeholders a ‘road map’ for the launch of the IDFP and will organize joint activities in the field. We also plan to meet on a regular basis to follow-up the implementation of the agreed upon action plan.