Nigerian religious leaders in UK to talk about environmental crisis

Talks with politicians and faith leaders on preventing conflict in the oil-rich country caused by environmental degradation.

December 13, 2010 | Web First
By Trevor Grundy | Ecumenical News International

Faith groups have a key role to play in stemming the environmental crisis in Africa, says an organizer of meetings on possible violence connected a looming Nigerian ecological disaster.  

Four of Nigeria's top religious leaders arrived in London on Dec. 8 for talks with politicians and faith leaders on preventing conflict in the oil-rich country caused by environmental degradation.

The two-day visit of the leaders, who represent more than 150 million Christians and Muslims, has been organized by the British Council and the Alliance of Religious and Conservation.

"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," said ARC director, Michael Palmer.

The four leaders are Amirui Mumineen Shayk as Sultan Muhammadu Sa'adu Abubakr, considered to be the spiritual leader of Nigeria's more than 70 million Muslims; the Rev. Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; Khalifa Sheikh Qaribullah Nasir Kabara, leader of the Qadriyyah Sufi Movement in West Africa; and Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja.

The visit will include meetings with Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne,: the Bishop of London,  Richard John Chartres; Lord Sheikh, chair of Eco Muslim UK; London Mayor Boris Johnson; and the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. 

The four will also hold talks with the Department for International Development and the British Council.  

"In the context of tackling environmental problems in a country like Nigeria, working with faith leaders is crucial," said British Council Nigerian director Ben Fisher. "They are figures of huge influence and trust to 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 are not enough."

The religious leaders will discuss their own long-term plans for environmental action with the aim of launching plans in late 2011 or early 2012.

Nigeria has one of the worst environmental records in the world and the visit takes place 15 years after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental activist, for championing the plight of the Ogoni people whose lives he said were dramatically changed by the exploration for oil by Shell in the Niger River Delta.

The Guardian newspaper on Dec. 9 reported that  Shell claimed it had influence on staff at the main ministries of  the Nigerian government. The paper said that a cache of secret dispatches released by WikiLeaks quoted Ann Pickard, Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, telling US diplomats that Shell had seconded employers to every relevant department in the Nigerian government and so knew "everything that was being done in thus ministries." 

The secret documents from U.S. embassies in Africa revealed that the Anglo-Dutch oil company swapped intelligence with the United States. The paper quoted Celestine AkpoBari of the human rights network, Social Action (Nigeria) saying:" Shell is everywhere. They are more powerful than the Nigerian government."

In late 1995, Nigeria's execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmental activists led to Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth for three years.

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