By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, have taken part in a pre-election interfaith peace conference in Nigeria.
Giving the keynote address at the “Religious Harmony in Nigeria: Towards the 2019 General Elections” conference in Abuja, Archbishop Justin told the audience that Peace required justice.
He said: 'Attacks cannot be treated with impunity. Truth needs telling and arriving at the truth that is to be told is a complex process.'
The Archbishop held separate meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. The election will be held on 16 February, 2019, while the new President will be inaugurated on 29 May 2019.
Archbishop Welby said he had learnt from his visits to Nigeria that the desire for peace ws universal but not unconditional.
He added: 'In conflict, every person's so-called truth is their own. And it is only in a place of security and hope that they can adjust their perception of truth, see their own faults and sins, as well as those of others, and learn to seek peace, to accept diversity, or disagreement, in other words, reconciliation.
'I learned that reconciliation is a matter of generations. It is not completed by declarations but by practical action. It faces opposition by those who seek advantage from disorder and disruption. And there are advantages for those with evil intentions. That is one of the challenges of political leadership.'
Speaking of Nigeria, he said: 'Anything that touches Nigeria touches me deeply. Nigeria has been my teacher, my friend and my passion. When I hear of Nigeria's difficulties and problems, whether it be terrorism, or economic hardship or the deaths of farmers – too often Christian farmers – I am deeply distressed. I mourn as for a member of my family.
When I hear of gloom and pessimism, such an un-Nigerian emotion, I pray and long for a change of heart and the birth of a greater hope. For this is a very great country indeed.
'As a foreigner to my fingertips, with no right to speak to you, I feel an immense sense of privilege and responsibility to be here today. It is also a duty. As a Christian, I am called to the ministry of reconciliation. God reconciled us to Himself through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross and assigned us the task of reconciling people to one another and to God. That call to reconciliation requires leadership, and there is a great need of leadership in Africa.
'Nigeria is the giant of the continent and is becoming a giant of the world. By 2050, she may have as many as 500 million citizens. There is an energy in this country which can transform, not only this nation but the whole continent and far beyond. There is an economic talent, an entrepreneurial spirit, a courage and willingness to take risks which is in desperately short supply in our world,' he said.
He called on the candidates to set a standard for themselves that was even much higher than what happened in Nigeria in the 2015 elections when the candidates agreed to call on their followers to conduct the elections without violence, to accept the results of the elections, and to treat each other honourably, no matter the outcome of the elections,” he said.
“Religious leaders should encourage their congregations to discharge their civic duties according to each person's conscience; politicians should give this nation a chance to achieve its potential by resolving to make every effort to serve with integrity. Where politicians fail the people in the performance of their elected duties, religious leaders should advise the politicians privately. If their advice is not heeded, they must exercise their public prophetic role and speak truth to power.
'We must not condone the wrong deeds of public officials just because they belong to our Churches or Mosques. Neither can we just sound off. A former senior politician of many years ago used to say about Bishops in the House of Lords (the upper house of the UK Parliament), ''The trouble is Bishops blow in, blow off and blow out''.'
'Religious leaders should be united in applauding the good, suggesting improvements, and calling out wrong doings. All Nigerians have in your hands a golden future. You are the ones who take steps towards it, as did your predecessors,' Archbishop Welby stated.