Friday, August 19, 2016, may turn out to be a historic day for efforts to promote healthy relations between the major faiths. On that day, dignitaries gathered in Kaduna for the commissioning of the International Centre for Peace and Inter-Religious Harmony. The centre is at the instance of the World Council of Churches and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.
The Centre for Peace and Inter-Religious Harmony located on Jabi Road, in the heart of Kaduna, received great leaders who have been in the forefront of the struggle to attain peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. Leaders like His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abukakar III; His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja; the president of Christian Council of Nigeria, Most Rev. Emanuel Udophia, and its general secretary, Rev. Yusuf Ibrahim Wushishi.
Others are the secretary general of Jama’atu Nasir Islam, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu; Rev. Israel Akanji, who stood in for the president of Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Samson Ayokunle; Dr Usman Bugaje, Engr Samuel Salihu, former secretary general of Christian Association of Nigeria; Rev. Joseph Hayab, spokesperson of Northern States chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria and other religious leaders.
The significance of siting the centre in Kaduna State is highly strategic, as Kaduna State has had its fair share of deadly ethno-religious crises since the 1980s. The centre mainly seeks to systematically document interfaith relations to inform national and international policy-making. The centre will also fight and campaign against the manipulation of religion for political and economic gains that have plunged our dear country, Nigeria, into endless cycles of killings.
The governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, without mincing words, said: “My assignment today is quite simple. I am to launch this important centre and I will do so very quickly. The second is to thank the World Council of Churches and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought for deciding to locate it in Kaduna. We are grateful and we do not take this honour lightly because this centre could have been located anywhere, but in your collective wisdom you chose to locate it in Kaduna; we are very grateful.”
Highlighting the importance of the centre, Governor el-Rufai, who expressed optimism and belief in the initiative, told the august visitors in August the history of Kaduna town, saying, “Kaduna is a young city. In July next year, by God’s grace, we will be celebrating 100 years of the creation of Kaduna. But it has a rich history. It used to be the only planed city in Nigeria because Lord Lugard signed the first town planning order in Nigeria in July 1917. It used to be the only cosmopolitan city in Nigeria where every Nigerian and, indeed, every foreigner could consider his or her home without fear of being discriminated against on account of his ethnicity or religion.”
On the painful side of the history, the governor continued: “Unfortunately, since 1980, Kaduna has gone through 12 rounds of violence associated with ethnic or religious differences that have led to the death of about 20,000 people and the destruction of properties worth billions. As if that is not bad enough, our people are divided. The city of Kaduna is roughly divided across the River Kaduna. Most Christians live across the southern side of the river, and most Muslims live across the northern side of the river. This is the legacy we have inherited. This is not the Kaduna I grew up in. And this is why this centre is important to us. It is both a statement recognising the division in Kaduna but also an indication of hope that will unite our people. And Kaduna will be great again.”
Renewing hope in the initiative, he further said: “For me being at this centre, it is an honour. The government of Kaduna State not only appreciates the centre being here but also gives every support necessary to make it a success. In our government policies, decisions and actions, we have been de-emphasising these differences. For instance, we found that the government has two bureaux of Islamic Affairs and Christian Affairs separately. We dissolved them into one because we believe that these two religions have very little differences between them and it is our duty to compel them to work together so that they would understand one another.”
The Sultan, in his remark, said the commissioning of the centre is a message to the world amidst several misrepresentations: “This is an opportunity for us once more to tell the whole world that we have our own little problems in Nigeria, like many other parts of the world, but we are not fighting and killing each other every other day of our life. Coming together as Muslims and Christians to forge once more a bond of relationships, understanding, commitment, standing by our holy books is a very great statement for everybody to know that we mean what we always say and we keep on preaching peace. This centre is supposed to be a centre for peace and harmony. And whoever has a problem, no matter how big you think that problem is, if you take it up to the appropriate places and sit downand dialogue, you will find solutions to these problems. Taking up arms and saying very hot words that will engender conflict do not help us.”
The Sultan, who also stressed the efficacy of dialogue, concluded by saying: “I think the best thing we must do for our religions and humanity is to find a way to bring them down in order to talk. And I believe dialogue is the best option in any conflict resolution, not the use of force. We have seen countries where heavy machineries and weapons have been used but there have never seen peace. We have seen the world where people are killing one another but there is no peace there. And people are fighting to entrench a system that they believe is the best but still there is no peace.
“Are we saying that when Muslims are killing Muslims, it’s okay? Don’t we come together and save humanity? Or are we saying when Christians are killing one another it’s okay? Don’t we come together and save humanity? We believe it is not so. That is not the teachings of our holy books. That is why I think this centre is different from others because we want to make it a centre focus and a centre where people can now come in to find out what has been happening. When people have problems, which is normal, please reach out to this centre; we will get to the bottom of the problems. You should take it to the highest authority, whether at the federal or state level, and see how we can bring peace to the whole of our communities.”
The general secretary of World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who highlighted the structure of the centre, said: “First, that the Centre is, and needs to be seen as, genuinely interreligious, by which I mean in this case that it is owned and administered, and publicly seen to be owned and administered, by the Christian and Muslim communities on an equal basis. The Board of Management is made of both Christian and Muslim leaders 50/50 per cent and the goal and intention is to ensure that the staffing of the Centre, which will need to bring in a variety of expertise, will also represent the two religious traditions on an equal basis. The second aspect, which I also believe is fundamental, is that though the Centre rightly has the word ‘International’ in its name, and both the World Council of Churches and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought intend to continue to be supportive of its work, it is vital that our local Nigerian partners, the Christian Council of Nigeria and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, are seen as playing the leading role in the management of the centre and the direction of its work. The world will be looking at you to see how to take inspiration from what you are doing here in Kaduna, to address religious violence elsewhere in the world. Through what I have heard from you today, I am convinced that you can be a sign of hope to the world.”
I will end this review by reiterating the commitment and determination of the Kaduna State government under the leadership of Governor Nasir el-Rufai in working assiduously towards ensuring inter-religious harmony and peace in Kaduna State.
—Aruwan is the spokesperson of the Kaduna State governor.