On Thursday 22 November Tony Blair, Founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, along with HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, launched a major new programme of Faith Foundation-led work in Nigeria to encourage reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities. The country has seen deep divisions and tensions between these communities in recent times, caused by the challenges of poverty and barriers of ethnicity, class and religion.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation will embark on a plan of action with local Christian and Muslim faith leaders and young people. These leaders and young people will work together, as well as with the Foundation, to build sustainable co-existence through joint leadership, education and action on shared challenges, such as preventing deaths from malaria.
To demonstrate the nature of the work, Mr Blair, Bishop Welby, and HRH Prince Ghazi took part in a Faith Foundation-run video conference between Muslim and Christian students to encourage greater dialogue and understanding between the faiths. This aimed to break down barriers, and give the students the knowledge to resist extremist voices and ideology – working towards a longer term peace for the next generation in Nigeria.
The Foundation’s high school programme, Face to Faith, brings high school students together in over 19 countries so they can learn from each other directly, learn to respect difference – not fear it – and ultimately replace conflict with cooperation.
Tony Blair and Bishop Welby, with HRH Prince Ghazi attending via video-message, also demonstrated international solidarity from the Muslim and Christian communities of the world with the most senior religious leaders in Nigeria who are working towards peace.
Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation said: “My Foundation and I are deeply committed to addressing the challenges of religious reconciliation in Nigeria. Understanding and respecting different faiths is central to securing sustainable peace, particularly where those who seek to misuse religion for violent ends aim to destroy it. Bishop Justin Welby has been doing extremely good work in Nigeria towards exactly this goal. I hope that over the coming months, the work he and my Foundation do will go towards healing the rifts and divisions amongst faiths in the country, bringing unity and peaceful co-existence.”
Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate said: "Thirty-four years after first coming to Nigeria, and with more than seventy visits since, in all parts of this vibrant, passionate, talented and promising country, I am both challenged and profoundly excited by this initiative. In service to Nigeria, it offers a contribution to the hope of peace across the whole country. It is a service, there is no question of bringing some external solutions, and peace and development in this country are always made possible only by Nigerians. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to the future of a country I admire and love."
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President, Christian Association of Nigeria said: “This is an important moment for us as a country. I believe in progressive dialogue. Dialogue where we can set goals and timelines. To find great people coming from around the world to help us in this is incredible. Thank you Mr Blair, your Foundation, Bishop Justin Welby and Prince Ghazi for giving us practical things to help us work together.”
Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto said: “The videoconference was an eye opener. What the children discussed captured exactly what we are trying to do. We need to understand one another. We need education to know what our religions teach us. We need to love one another like we love ourselves.”