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
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
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. Elanzanews.M