Participants at the conference

An international non-governmental organisation, UFUK Dialogue Initiative, is determined to take the message of peaceful co-existence among Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country, Martins Ifijeh writes

Once upon a time in Nigeria, people lived in peace and harmony. Once upon a time in Nigeria, ethnic and religious sentiments were not a topic for discourse in any forum. But things began to change gradually in the build-up to the 1966 coup that eliminated a crop of elite from a region in Nigeria. And the rest is now history.

Since then, there has been no love lost. Religious and ethnic sentiments now dominate the country’s daily activities at the expense of peaceful co-existence. The atmosphere is awash with tales of ethnic and religious conflicts, so much so that allegiances from Nigerians are now based on ethnicity and religion. These two phenomena now come first before the country. Nigeria is now clearly divided along religious and ethnic lines which is unprecedented in our history. And the attendant result has been series of ethnic and religious clashes in the country.

But just as Nigerians were thinking the situation can’t get any better, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with the activities of an international non-governmental organisation in the country dedicated to peaceful co-existence among Nigerians through the instrument of dialogue, love and tolerance. This NGO is UFUK Dialogue Initiative.

UFUK Dialogue Initiative was founded in 2011 in Nigeria with a mission to foster interfaith and intercultural dialogue, stimulate thinking and exchange of opinions on supporting and fostering democracy and peace all over the world and to provide a common platform for education and information exchange.

“We have no one particular agenda and no inherent ideology, other than respect and genuine concern for the spiritual quality and welfare of life on this planet of ours,” said Mr. Kamil Kemanchi, the president of UFUK Dialogue at the recently concluded international conference on love and tolerance organised in collaboration with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) in Abuja.

The conference, tagged: ‘Countering Violent Extremism in Nigeria Through Love and Tolerance’ was aimed at ensuring that love and tolerance continue to dominate actions, inactions and relationships in the quest to build a better society.

No doubt the UFUK Dialogue has in no small measures contributed positively to peaceful co-existence in Nigeria through conferences, dialogue dinners, awards and seminars all geared towards promoting peace and that platform for the exchange of ideas aimed at fostering peace and unity in Nigeria.

His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan who has been a regular face at events organised by UFUK Dialogue, said: “The initiative serves societal peace, love, and friendship wisely and compassionately in support of human dignity and the common good by striving to bring forth the common values of humanity; values such as understanding, tolerance, respect, and compassion.”

Dr. Khalid Ebubakir, the Secretary General of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) who was one of the speakers at the conference had this to say: “There is no better time to organise such a conference. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. Love brings acceptance and accommodation.”

On his part, the Director General of the IPCR, Prof. Oshita Oshita, said: “The event was aimed at highlighting love and tolerance as veritable tools towards countering violent extremism in the society.

“We cannot ignore the role of tolerance and love in every functional society. And it must be stated emphatically that what Nigeria needs at this point in time are love and tolerance,” he stated. He also added that “with love in our hearts, we would be able to tolerate one another, including our religious affiliation and cultural inclination.”

UFUK Dialogue Initiative aims to be one of the most active and effective foundations in Nigeria and by contributing to peace through dialogue and creating a platform for the coexistence of cultures and adherents of different faiths and ethnicities.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of suspicions not only amongst religious lines but among individuals, the only way we can clear this misunderstanding is through dialogue,” says Mrs. Saudatu Mahdi, the Executive Secretary of Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA).
“This conference is well-timed with the calibre of speakers and also the composition of the audience. It is hoped that the message of love and tolerance as preached by UFUK Dialogue would spread to every nook and cranny of Nigeria,” she added.

In a world where even the farthest point is within an arm’s reach, it is impossible to live anywhere without experiencing diversity. In order for everyone to live peacefully, it is important for individuals to rise above differences that drive us apart or against each other. UFUK Dialogue envisions a community in which people from all walks of life interact with each other and cooperate to serve their communities, thereby strengthening civil society and promoting the development of human values.

The Minster of Youths and Sports, Solomon Dalung, who was among the panelists at the event, spoke extensively on the origin of the Boko Haram insurgency and how the lack of tolerance further gave steam to the insurgents to continue to cause havoc and pitch the Christians against the Muslims through their activities and making it look like a religious crisis.

“Boko Haram insurgents took advantage of our impatience and intolerance to cause havoc. The Koran does not encourage killing and likewise the Bible, we must learn to love and tolerate one another,” he stated.

UFUK Dialogue is a non-partisan organisation; “we support activities pertaining to the better service to humanity, such as promoting conflict resolution within and between nations. As such, we are committed to universal values of freedom, justice, democracy and the rights of all living beings,” the director of the foundation says.

The conference which was well-attended and had speakers like John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Dr. Rachel Rudolph, an international expert on religious extremism and a host of other international speakers as well as representatives of the Service Chiefs, ministers, head of agencies as well as the wife of the President, Hajia Aisha Buhari in attendance. A visibly elated participant from one of the South-south states could not but hide his excitement when approached for his view on the importance of the conference.

“This is what Nigeria needs. We need to go back to those days where a Muslim can dine freely with a Christian without fear of food poisoning and vice versa,” he said. “We missed it a long time ago and the earlier we began to preach the language of love and tolerance the better for the upcoming generation,” he further added.

UFUK Dialogue has been in the business of preaching peaceful co-existence across Nigeria since 2011. It is to their credit that they have organised high profile events that have brought religious leaders of the two major religions together on a table to feast.
“Our meetings are characterised by a high level of mutual respect and love for one another,” Kemamchi stated.
“We believe that religious leaders should set worthy examples for adherents of their faith. That is why our activities always have the support of religious leaders in the country like Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Sheik Ahmed Lemu, Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah and others too numerous to mention.”

The activities of UFUK Dialogue in Nigeria is sponsored by the First Surat Group of Companies, the parent organisations of the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges (NTIC), Nigerian Turkish Nile University (NTNU) and the Nigerian Turkish Nizamiye Hospital (NTNH).

“Nigeria is a great country. Nigerians are also loving people. UFUK Dialogue is that voice we use to encourage dialogue and peaceful coexistence amongst the various religious and ethnic groups all around the world,” says Mr. Mehmet Basturk, the General Managing Director of First Surat Group.

“Tolerance is our safest refuge and our fortress against the handicaps that arise from schism, factions, and the difficulties inherent in reaching mutual agreement,” Fetullah Gulen said.