Building an Architecture of Peace: Faith Leaders Fostering Resilience and Unity in Nigeria
Nigeria’s election has come and gone but its aftershocks continue to be felt across Africa’s most populous nation. Re-runs are taking place in some states, candidates who lost alleged vote-rigging, opposition parties have filed legal challenges, and communities in several states are recovering from a flare-up in violence.
Rising tensions along diverse religious and ethnic fault lines made this election especially sensitive and have left Nigerians more polarised than ever before. Within this scenario, faith leaders have a crucial role to play, whether promoting peace and interreligious dialogue during the earlier electoral process or guiding their followers away from violence in the delicate weeks ahead.
“Prejudices have been building up and the election brought these grievances out into the open,” said Lantana Abdullahi, KAICIID’s project officer in Nigeria. “A lot of people don’t believe the outcome of the elections or have faith in its process.”
A key partner in these efforts is the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP). With KAICIID’s support, this network of religious leaders, policymakers, and civil society stakeholders has conducted projects with local communities and held a peace conference to push for calm through the election.
Religion plays an influential role throughout Nigerian society, in which over 90% of the 216 million-strong population identify with a faith, mainly Christian or Islam.
“Most of us go to churches or to mosques,” added Emeka Ugwuanyi, IDFP’s Legal Advisor and co-lead of the election project. “We revere our religious leaders. We hold them in high esteem and see them as God’s representatives. So, whatever they say as encouragement or instruction, we listen.”
IDFP designed and implemented a project to strengthen the capacity of 154 religious’ leaders, policymakers, and civil society to discuss effective strategies for preventing violence in the election run-up all while creating opportunities for building trust and cooperation.
Among those in attendance was Enwere Belusochukwu, president of the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria. For him, the project offered a tremendous opportunity.
“We all came together and received a lot of training which imparted valuable information into our lives,” said Belusochukwu. “We are now able to go to the grassroots and pass on these important lessons.”
“The trick is to start small and spread big,” he said. “You have to start with yourself and build out: first with your family, then your community, and then the wider group beyond that.”
In the spirit of this important lesson, Belusochukwu hosted a special ‘peacebuilding dinner’ with family and friends. “During the meal, I spoke with them and emphasized the importance of always maintaining peace with your neighbours. It was a wonderful occasion.”
The platform also hosted its annual Peace Conference, held under the theme, “Religion and Ethnicity: Safeguarding the 2023 General Elections”. Drawn from communities across Nigeria, hundreds of attendees representing Islam and Christianity received a strong message of unity. The ripple effect from these projects has been significant.
“We stopped at nothing to make sure we told everyone that peace is the answer,” said Belusochukwu. “We went to churches, marketplaces, and beyond. We met with village heads and youth leaders. What we are preaching is tolerance. Our core mandate is to build bridges across religious groups so that Nigerians will live peacefully.”
Over time, the aim is to help IDFP become fully sustainable and independent by boosting the network’s capacity to apply for funds, diversify partners, and build relationships with the government.
Reconciliation programs will also be implemented, which will involve religious leaders and faith communities to encourage unity, forgiveness, and the adoption of just ways to address concerns.
A key tool for addressing violent flashpoints is the Interfaith Dialogue Units (IDUs). These units help detect and resolve conflict in ten states by closely monitoring community disputes that can ignite unrest. Established in 2020, IDUs serve as a multi-stakeholder platform in regions affected by religious and ethnic violence. Their purpose is to enhance the participation and involvement of religious leaders in conflict prevention and resolution while addressing factors contributing to the discord.
“Whenever we have a potential issue of conflict, we send our representatives for fact-finding and mediation,” explains Ugwuanyi of the IDFP. “We gather early warning signs of conflict and quickly nip it in the bud. It has helped us to bring about peace.”
The unique trust and spiritual standing that religious leaders hold in their communities make them a potent force for securing a more stable and harmonious future for their local communities and for Nigeria as a whole.