Editorial: The Incredible Promise of Nigeria
In Nigeria, the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and its local partners are building an architecture of peace – implementing targeted campaigns to prevent hate speech, advocating violence-free elections, forming regional peace committees which serve as early warning and response systems and providing grants for innovative peacebuilding initiatives. Dr. Safiullah Munsoor, KAICIID’s Director of Programmes, looks at the current state of Nigeria and outlines his hopes for the future of the country.
As the only intergovernmental organization with a mandate for interreligious dialogue, KAICIID is a global trailblazer within the field of peacebuilding. Its work spans over 50 countries through its unique capacity building and advocacy programmes. In KAICIID’s four focus countries, which include the Arab Region, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Myanmar, the Centre has developed an integrated package of context-specific approaches, methods and tools to resolve and mitigate conflict and build the nuts and bolts required to assemble an architecture of peace.
Nigeria, an oil-producing nation with one of the largest economies in Africa, has a paradoxically high level of absolute poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports an estimated 50% percent of the population to be affected by poverty, ranking it on its Human Development Index at 157 out of 189 countries and territories.
With a population of 186 million inhabitants (estimated to be 200 million in 2019) and over 250 ethnic groups, Nigeria seems more like a continent than just one nation. Although the Muslim-Christian composition in Nigeria is almost equal in proportion, each of the faiths are made up of numerous denominations, compounding the already delicate situation.
Additionally tribal and ethnic conflicts manipulate religious overtones for their own vested interests. These are further exacerbated by the radical group, Boko Haram, in Northeastern Nigeria and the farmer-pastoralist conflict raging across different parts of the country.
Yet, despite security issues in Nigeria, life seems to go on, indicating the resilience of the people. Abuja, the cosmopolitan metropolis, with its increasing ebbs and flow, and population of 6 million people, seems to be bustling. The energy and enthusiasm of young boys and girls is striking, as they carry out their small trading along and across the streets. To me, this is an indication that the potential of youth can be harnessed and developed, in order to form a generation of future leaders and entrepreneurs. A national and integrated scheme is needed, in order to provide young people with ready access to finance and capacity development, and tap into their God-given potential.
Nigeria also has immense possibilities in terms of its natural resources and its educated workforce. However, this potential can only be harnessed if there is peace and harmony in the country. This is a window of opportunity where KAICIID and its brand of interreligious dialogue can be effectively utilized to bridge the divides, together with its national and local partners.
The Centre is making a historical break-through by forging an alliance of high level Christian and Muslim leadership through the Interreligious Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP). The platform is comprised of 100 local leaders, with equal representation between Christians and Muslims. Having interacted with many of them during a recent mission, I was once again reminded of the potential and the commitment that these representatives carry with them.
It was a joy to see Muslims and Christians intermingling with each other, despite their differences, echoing the words of the divine scriptures ‘that we have created you as nations and tribes so that you get to know one another’ (Al-Quran, 49:13) and ‘breaking bread’ (Holy Bible, Acts 2:42-46). Together they discussed plans for the future, representing a beacon of hope.
The IDFP is an unprecedented initiative, strengthened through a defined mandate, rules and regulations and also as a recognized legal entity as of 2017. Members of the IDFP deliberate when conflict and violence breaks out, issuing statements, conducting advocacy visits, and building capacities throughout the country. Its membership affords a unique channel for delivering programmes aimed at building resilience and early warning systems. The IDFP is currently developing its Strategic Plan (2020-2024), with strategies to make it more sustainable over time, so that it can generate its own resources, as well as act as a conveyor and advocate for policy within the realm of interreligious dialogue in peacebuilding.
The IDFP also works with national and local partners to catalyse change and increase awareness of the similarities of humanness, despite social, cultural and religious difference. Moreover, it conducts targeted interventions like advocating the prevention of hate speech, promoting an increase in tolerance and encouraging social coexistence.
Prior to national elections in February, the IDFP focused on reducing electoral violence through trainings and media outreach, including a wide-spread call for peace shared with millions of voters through social media and national television stations. It was heartening to see the election yielding results without much violence and reinforcing that democratic process is still feasible in the continent if there is a common will to do it. This IDFP pilot model is now being examined with a view to transform it into more formalised early warning and early response mechanisms.
Additionally, Regional Peace Committees, established in partnership with the Kukah Centre, have been trained in violence-free election advocacy, mediation, and serve as early warning systems across six Northeastern states.
Finally, KAICIID small grants fund grassroots initiatives each year, empowering local organizations and actors to implement anti-violence campaigns and bring religious leaders to the table on issues such as public policy and community development. So far 14 grants have been implemented, impacting over 4000 beneficiaries in 13 communities.
At times, these tasks are challenging, but these are a few examples of how amidst this volatile situation, people from all walks of life can come together and indeed make a difference for the better. In the hope that we live and die to make the world a better place.
About the Author: Dr. Mohamed Safiullah Munsoor’s international career in development spans over three decades, including work with the Canadian International Development Agency, the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, Save the Children (Norway) and the United Nations. During his career, Dr. Munsoor has worked in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle-East and Europe, covering more than 20 countries. His professional work primarily focuses on poverty reduction, capacity building, strategic planning, programme development and management. Currently he serves as KAICIID’s Director of Programmes, overseeing the Centre’s work in the Arab Region, CAR, Myanmar and Nigeria.