Friday, April 15, 2011
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The audience for the Premier of An African Answer reflects Canada's diversity as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. (Photo: Asaju Tunde Lee)The ripple effect of reconciliation and healing spread by celebrated Nigerian peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, reached Canada’s capital city, Ottawa at the recent Canadian premiere of An African Answer co-hosted by Initiatives of Change, Canada and the High Commission of Nigeria in Canada.

The documentary, produced as a sequel to the popular Imam and the Pastor by co-directors Alan Channer and Imad Karam of FLT Films follows Ashafa and Wuye on their journey of peacemaking which began in their own country, Nigeria, in the 1990s, to the Rift Valley Region of Kenya to bring reconciliation and healing to a community violently ripped apart by the disputed national election of 2009.

A feeling of sadness, followed by a sense of hope and encouragement were palpable in the amphitheatre of St. Paul University where the screening took place, as the audience – some of whom had actually experienced the violence in Nigeria and Kenya- re-lived the horror and then, touched by the commitment, integrity and passion for peace displayed by Ashafa and Wuye, moved a step closer to hope in their own hearts.

Although billed as the premiere of An African Answer- since the Imam and the Pastor had made its Canadian debut in February 2007- the organisers decided to screen both documentaries. This enhanced both films for the audience, since it gave a sense of continuity to the story. The first one introduced the two protagonists and the story of their own remarkable transformation from bitter hostility as members of two warring faith communities in Nigeria, to deep bonds of friendship based on mutual respect and a shared mission.

One of the most moving moments of the evening was when Mrs. Katyen Jackden, Deputy High Commissioner of Nigeria to Canada explained that the Imam and the Pastor, which she was viewing for the first time, had helped her to let go of her own traumatic past.

Noting that the movie was filmed in parts of the country that held precious childhood memories for her, she recalled poignantly that: “I can no longer return to my father’s house.” (Her family home in Yelwa Shendam had been destroyed in the violence.) “But after watching this movie, I was able to let go of some of the pain of the past.”

She pleaded for the movie to be shown in every part of Nigeria, and marvelled at the road travelled by the Imam and the Pastor in their role as emissaries of peace - from Nigeria to Kenya on the opposite side of the African continent.

Benoît Charlebois, the newly appointed Managing Director of Initiatives of Change Canada remarked that Her Excellency’s experience exemplified the very essence of Initiatives of Change, which is all about effecting positive change in the world, beginning with change in the individual.

The screening of the two documentaries was followed by a panel discussion with an opportunity for the audience to pose questions and comment on the movies.

Panellists included Nigerian Deputy High Commissioner Mrs. Katyen Jacken, Richard Batsiduka, Conflict Resolution Officer with Citizenship and Immigration (a Department of the federal government of Canada), Mary Ella Keblusek, who works with a human rights- advocating NGO in the Niger Delta, and Richard Weeks, Administrator of Initiatives of Change Canada. The panel moderator was Vern Redkop, Associate Professor of Conflict Studies at St. Paul University.

Redkop commented that the documentaries portrayed remarkable examples of how peace can evolve at the personal and grass roots, community levels.

Weeks paid tribute to FLTfilms, the non-profit company administered as an autonomous division of Initiatives of Change. He recalled that FLTfilms’ first film, For the Love of Tomorrow (from which it takes its name), produced by the late David Channer, father of Alan Channer depicted a story of reconciliation between France and German after World War II.

FLT’s current co-directors Alan Channer and Imad Karam continue to create and disseminate documentary films that explore faith-based approaches to reconciliation and peace building, he said.

The Ottawa event, while formally hosted by I of C Canada and the Nigerian High Commission, was organised in collaboration with St. Paul University and members of the localNigerian community who provided refreshments for the post-panel reception. Weeks acknowledged the work of Victor Wilson, president of the Nigerian Canadian Association in Ottawa who led this community effort and formally welcomed the gathering.