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PRESS RELEASE: Nigerian Christian and Muslim leaders inspired to work together on the environment following London visit

December 14, 2010:

ARC's Martin Palmer with the Sultan of Sokoto

For immediate release

Religions have a crucial role to play in protecting our planet – and the environment is also proving a meeting ground for different faith groups to work together. Nowhere is that more true than in Africa.

That was the verdict of a unique visit to the UK last week of four of Nigeria’s most influential faith leaders, who between them speak for more than 100 million Christians and Muslims.

Organised by the British Council and the Bath-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the trip included Amirul Mumineen Shayk as-Sultan Muhammadu Sa'adu Abubakar (the Sultan of Sokoto), considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims (some 50 percent of the nation's population), and Khalifa Sheikh Qaribullah Nasir Kabara, leader of the Qadiriyyah Sufi Movement in West Africa, with an estimated 15 million followers in Nigeria.

Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria
The Sultan is co-chair of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council with Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), based in the Niger Delta region. He was part of the delegation along with Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja.

The high-level visit included an audience with HRH the Prince of Wales as well as meetings with the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres; the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols; Lord Sheikh, chair of Eco Muslim UK; the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Michael Bear, and senior officials from the Department for International Development. They also visited the Methodist International Centre – the first hotel in the UK to win an ethical award.

The trip was aimed at learning how UK faith groups are addressing climate change and environmental degradation. ARC director Martin Palmer said: “There is now a new recognition that faiths have a crucial role to play in protecting our planet and nowhere more so than in Africa, where 90 percent of the population describes itself as either Christian or Muslim.”

Archbishop John said concerns about the environment were uniting Muslim and Christian groups in Nigeria: “It is bringing us together to talk together instead of arguing with each other.”

As well as dealing obvious environmental problems – such as the devastation caused by “unchecked” spillages from the oil industry – Nigeria was also dealing with the effects of climate change caused by actions on the other side of the world, he said.

“For example, the desert is encroaching. Whom do you blame for that? The ordinary people simply say things are no longer as they used to be,” he said.

“This is where the discussion at a global level comes in. We are hearing that these desert encroachments are not unconnected with humanity thousands of miles away. Somebody should tell them that we are now in one global village and no body has the right to mess about our village.”

The Sultan of Sokoto added his endorsement to co-operating to fight the destruction of the environment in Nigeria. "We Muslims and Christians are all created by the one God and are all here for one common purpose to help humanity" he said. "Now through the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council we will speak with one voice on this issue and we must now work out how to act, how to relate to our government on this issue and work out what to say to our followers. We know that Nigerians will listen to us."

Pastor Ayo agreed, declaring: "it is now time for religious leaders to say enough is enough. We must now act."

Inspired by their visit, the faith leaders have decided to appoint a committee of 10 people (made up of theologians from Muslim and Christian faiths, as well as lay people with expertise in the environment) to the Nigerian Inter-religious Council to which they all belong. This will develop a plan of faith action on the environment within the next six months.

The visit follows on from the February 2010 Interfaith Forum on Climate Change held by the British Council in Abuja, Nigeria.

More than 60 faith leaders from 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa met to discuss their role in tackling the escalating destruction of the environment. They spelled out how the environmental crisis is already leading to worsening poverty, disease and conflict in Africa, with desertification in the north and rising sea levels in the south.

At that meeting they signed the Abuja Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, committing themselves to take action and calling for assistance in resources and expertise to help move forward.

It also follows ARC’s Windsor Celebration, in November 2009, when more than 30 faith traditions from around the world launched their own long-term action plans on the environment at Windsor Castle, hosted by ARC’s founder, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and attended by the United Nations Secretary-General, HE Mr Ban Ki-moon.

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