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Nigerian religious leaders unite in London to address environmental crisis

December 3, 2010:

National Mosque of Abuja, Nigeria


Four of Nigeria’s most influential religious leaders will unite in the UK next week (December 8 and 9) to gain support of British faith leaders, politicians and environmental activists in addressing the effects of climate change in Nigeria - and reveal their plans to help prevent conflict caused by environmental degradation.

The visit on 8 and 9 December has been organised by the British Council and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) – and the high-level meetings include an audience with HRH the Prince of Wales. It happens as the latest round of UN talks on climate change come to an end in Cancun, Mexico, with ministers from more than 190 countries hoping to inch towards a significant agreement. The last summit in Copenhagen last December ended in stalemate.

The four leaders, who between them speak for over 100 million Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, are: Amirul Mumineen Shayk as-Sultan Muhammadu Sa'adu Abubakar – considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims, roughly 50 per cent of the nation's population; Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor - President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), and based in the Niger Delta region; Khalifa Sheikh Qaribullah Nasir Kabara - leader of the Qadiriyyah Sufi Movement in West Africa, with an estimated 15 million followers in Nigeria; and Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan - the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja. See editors notes below for brief biographies

The visit will include meetings with Prince Charles, the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Westminster, Lord Sheikh – Chair of Eco Muslim UK, the Lord Mayor of London, and senior officials from the Department for International Development. They will have an eco-tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, and visit the Methodist International Centre – the first hotel in the UK to win an ethical award.

Ben Fisher, the British Council’s Director of Programmes in Nigeria said: “In the context of tackling environmental problems in a country like Nigeria, working with faith leaders is crucial. They are figures of huge influence and trust for large numbers of people, and are key to the challenge of changing perceptions and behaviour if there is to be a co-ordinated response to climate change. State actors alone are not enough. We must involve civil society in order to help people adapt to the effects of climate change.”

Martin Palmer, Director of ARC, which is working with the British Council and many other organizations around the world to bring the faiths into active partnership on the environment, 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% of the population describes itself as either Christian or Muslim.”

This 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 making a call for assistance in resources and expertise to help move forward.

In November 2009 more than 30 faith traditions from around the world launched their own plans at an international event in Windsor Castle hosted by ARC’s founder, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and attended by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

The list included four specific Plans from Africa and a major plan from the Muslim community. Commitments range from Evangelical Lutherans in Tanzania pledging to plant 8.5 million trees as community forests on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, to the commitment by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa to work on environment programmes in all 53 countries in Africa.

The Church of England also launched its long term plan committing the Church to an ambitious programme of, for example, reducing its carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050 and encouraging all 4,700 church schools to become sustainable schools by 2016.

The religious leaders from Nigeria will be discussing their own long-term plans for environmental action with ARC and the British Council, with the aim of launching and announcing the resulting plans in late 2011 or early 2012.


Notes to Editors

Amirul Mumineen Shayk as- Sultan Muhammadu Sa'adu Abubakar (born August 24, 1956 in Sokoto) is the 20th Sultan of Sokoto. He is the titular ruler of the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria, the head of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (Society for the Victory of Islam - JNI) and the president-general of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). As Sultan of Sokoto, he is considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims, roughly 50 per cent of the nation's population. He is also co-chair of the Nigeria-Inter-religious Council

Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor is currently the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). In July 2010, Oritsejafor was elected as the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the apex body of all Christians in that country. In doing so, he became the first Pentecostal leader to hold the position. He is also co-chair of the Nigeria-Inter-religious Council

Khalifa Sheikh Qaribullah Nasir Kabara is the leader of the Qadiriyyah Sufi Movement in Nigeria and the entire West African region. He ascended to the Khalifa in 1996 after the death of his father, Sheikh Muhammad Nasir Kabara. The Qadiriyya movement has an estimated 15 million followers in Nigeria and is that country’s largest Islamic sect.

Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan (born January 29, 1944) is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja. He was previously co-chair of NIREC and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC)

Work with faith leaders in Nigeria has been channeled through NIREC, of which the faith leaders participating in the visit are senior members.

The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, (NIREC) is a voluntary association made up of fifty (50) members, (25 Christians and 25 Muslims) formed by the representatives of the two Principal Religions - that is, Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, on 11 September, 1999. 

The establishment of NIREC as a Council was routed in the incessant ethno-religious crises which punctuated the socio-­political landscape of Nigeria. NIREC, is a permanent and independent body established to provide religious leaders and traditional rulers with a forum to promote greater interaction and understanding among the leadership and their followers as well as lay foundations for sustainable peace and religious harmony in Nigeria. Achievements have included:

  • Intervention During Religious Crisis
  • Building Muslim / Christian relations through dialogue and understanding of each others faith
  • Implementation of interfaith projects
  • Advising the government on religious affairs

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October 25, 2012:
The Sacred Life of Trees - an article by Martin Palmer
Judaism, Christianity and Islam share similar stories about planting trees; Martin Palmer explores the importance of trees to each of these great faiths for the magazine Faith Initiative: Embracing Diversity.