Interfaith and Young Leaders Retreat in Kaduna State, Nigeria Calls for Cooperation

Eric Olsen
June 16, 2014

The first “One Family Under God” Campaign Interfaith and Youth Leaders Retreat was held on June 4-5, 2014, bringing together Muslim and Christian interfaith and youth leaders from eight local government areas of Southern Kaduna. Ethnic and religious tensions in this geography have likely engendered more serious violence than any other forms of instability in recent Nigerian history.1 Thousands of lives have been lost through attacks on villages, church and mosque burnings and reprisal killings.

Nigeria Interfaith Youth Leaders Retreat group shot

Kaduna is the traditional center of northern Nigeria, and a bellwether state due to its confluence of Muslim, Christian, indigent and migrant communities, among other diverse populations. Kaduna is home to numerous key faith leaders and traditional rulers who are innovating in this peace-building arena; Global Peace Foundation Nigeria patron H.E. Hajia Amina Sambo also hails from Kaduna State.

Hayab and Maraya at Interfaith Youth Leaders Retreat 2014The Global Peace Foundation Nigeria’s “One Family Under God” Campaign is a conflict prevention initiative that taps the moral authority of religious leaders and traditional rulers, extending to the grassroots level. This is a values-based peacebuilding approach that Global Peace Foundation (GPF) is piloting along with strong partner organizations such as the  Nigerian Inter-Faith Action Association and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. The initiative in Kaduna focuses on the first steps in a larger body of work. The first steps, demonstrated at this convening, are preliminary engagement with Nigerian faith and youth leaders to build appetite for “owning” the peacebuilding effort to change attitudes and behaviors that drive identity-based conflict.

The larger scope of work aims for an overall reduction of identity based conflict by marshaling the moral authority of faith leaders and traditional rulers at both the national and local levels, and sets out an approach to measure the reduction of violence as well as change in attitudes and behaviors using empirical data and surveys, starting with a focus in Kaduna and expanding project evaluation over 2-3 years.We see engagement of youth as a critical programmatic element, so in addition to this first retreat, we will host a series of Interfaith and Youth Leaders Retreats over the next year, bringing together Muslim and Christian youth leaders from communities across the State.

One expected outcome of these Interfaith Youth Leaders Retreats is that participants will lead peace-building activities as “owners,” working to mitigate sectarian violence and identity-based conflicts, thereby promoting and sustaining cohesion and integration in their own communities. Rev. Hayab, Special Adviser to the Kaduna State Governor on Christian and Pilgrim Matters, (top) and Shiek Maraya, Special Adviser to the Kaduna State Governor on Islam and Hajj Matter, retreat moderators.

Welcoming participants, the retreat moderator, Rev. John Joseph Hayab (Special Adviser to the Kaduna State Governor on Christian and Pilgrim Matters) said, “We have gathered here today representing the Southern Kaduna State, whether we are Muslims or Christians, whether we belong to any of the 63 indigenous tribes, Fulanis or Hausas, we have come together today as brothers and sisters. Because of my relationship with Sheikh Maraya, many people refer to us as twins. Let this retreat offer each of you the opportunity to make new friendship with people you may consider different from you because of your religion or tribe.”

In his opening remarks, Sheikh Haliru Maraya (Special Adviser to the Kaduna State Governor on Islam and Hajj Matters) urged everyone to use the opportunity offered by the retreat to fashion out ways to move Kaduna State and Nigeria forward. Speaking further, he said, “we need to always remember that we all belong to one single family, irrespective of the differences in religion, status, background, belief and so on. None of us chose to be born into a certain religion or a certain tribe. And so no one should be persecuted or hated because of where they are born or the religion they happen to belong to. Kaduna has experienced loss of lives and property and so whatever transpired that led to these losses should become a lesson to us.”

Young leaders at Interfaith Youth Leaders RetreatTwo youth leaders, Muslim and Christian, who attended the retreat were Abdullazeez Ahmed Kadir and Samuel Aruwan, who are also both journalists. These young professionals highlighted their friendship and urged participants to go beyond their religion and tribal ethnicity to build relationships with others. Youth leaders and journalists, Muslim and Christian friends, Abdullazeez Ahmed Kadir and Samuel Aruwan.

Samuel Aruwan pointed out that the violence and economic devastation caused by violence hurts everyone. He spoke of our inter-connectedness and discouraged youth from picking up weapons and joining extremist violence. “There is need to end the hatred in the region, and the youths of the region should use this opportunity to lead that process” he said.

John Oko, Country Director, Global Peace Foundation Nigeria challenged participants to become those that will change the history of the State. He said, “Those who have had the most impact on others and have even changed the course of history were men and women who were able to step outside the “comfort zone” of their identity group and stand up for principles that benefit all”. Oko further encouraged each person to consider how his or her daily actions cultivate peacebuilding and development, and as participants return to their home communities, to especially consider interactions with others.

Goodwill messages describing interfaith and youth leader peacebuilding efforts as timely and urgently needed across the country were delivered by several stakeholders including:

  • Imam Sani Isah (Deputy Co-coordinator, Interfaith Mediation Center of  the Muslim-Christian Dialogue in Kaduna)

  • Rev. Bitrus Dangiwa (Deputy Co-coordinator, Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue in Kaduna)

  • Alhaji Ibrahim Kofena (Kaduna State Secretary to Jama‟tu Nasril Islam)

  • Rev. Likita Musa (representing the Kaduna State Christian Association of Nigeria)

  • Mallam Yunusa Yau, (Kaduna State Bureau for Islamic Matters)

  • Rev. Felix Musa Billy (Permanent Secretary, Kaduna State Bureau for Christian Matters) 

Goodwill messages Interfaith Youth Leaders Retreat 2014Goodwill messages from left to right: Rev. Felix Musa Billy, Mallam Yunusa Yau, Imam Sani Isah, Rev. Bitrus Dangiwa, Rev. Likita Musa.During the breakout sessions, participants engaged in group discussions to articulate what they believe were the causes of conflicts and violence in their communities and also propose solutions. Interestingly, the analyses of the causes as presented by each group were very similar. The solutions and way forward were also remarkably similar. The participants were quite engaging of one another as they shared the circumstances of the challenging realities as they live both as Muslims and as Christians in the various villages and communities. They resolved to work together to rebuild not only the trust among the people but also community facilities destroyed during past conflicts.

The “Get to Know the Other” session had participants pairing up Christian and Muslim. This offered them the opportunity to share personal stories with the „new friend‟ while asking each other honest questions. Through the exercise, old connections were discovered and new friendships were formed. Many participants came to the realization that despite the difference in religion and tribe, they both shared the same fears and hopes. As participants converged to share with everyone their experiences from the session, many promised to nurture the new bonds of friendship that were created in the days ahead – a small step towards ending extremist violence. 

1Ethnic Minorities and Political Turbulence in Kaduna State, p. 48, http://books.openedition.org/ifra/761 

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