By Siphiwe Sithole
Intern, Anglican Communion Communications, London
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd George Carey has expressed hope that both government and religious leaders in Nigeria will work for better relations between Christians and Muslims. This sentiment came following his two-week visit to the home of 15 million Anglicans in a country of 118 million people.
The visit, first discussed in 1993 was long delayed because of political instability in Nigeria. Earlier this year there were concerns voiced over Archbishop Carey's safety during his brief visit to Northern Nigeria, but the visit there went ahead.
Speaking from Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Carey said the Nigerian Church was "in very good heart and that it was showing very good signs of growth, with very good leadership and a great will to serve the people of the land."
The Archbishop said, "The way in which we in the Anglican Communion can help Nigeria is, first of all, by taking interest in what is happening in Nigeria and praying for the country and its people. Those of us in leadership can specifically support the Christian-Muslim dialogue. I would like to salute the Bishop of Kaduna , the Rt Rev Josiah Idowu-Fearon, in his efforts to create a healthy dialogue with the Muslims. The same is true of Bishop Simon Bala in Gusau (Zamfara State)." Kaduna has been the scene for much of the religious conflict with deaths numbering over 2000 last year. The Archbishop had a warm meeting with the Governor there, who has also been active in pursuing reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.
In his meeting with the Governor of Zamfara (Zamfara is one of eight States in Nigeria to have extended Sharia Law), Archbishop Carey said he was given "many assurances" which might contribute positively to calm the situation and bring about better understanding and tolerance. Commenting on a way forward he said, "I met some splendid Muslim leaders, but I'm not completely assured that that there is a way forward into a more settled relationship." The Archbishop is going to urge the three Archbishops in Nigeria, especially the Primate, to make sure the officials follow up his visit.
The Archbishop said: "The Governor of Zamfara assured me that Christians can build churches, that Christianity can to be taught in schools. I have been given such assurance before in other places, but I will wait and see if they are implemented."
Archbishop Carey also expressed the sense of uncertainty that many Christians are facing in their daily lives in the eight States that have extended Sharia Law . He said, "In my ecumenical meeting with Christian leaders in Nigeria I heard many concerns expressed about the situation Christians face, in states which have extended Sharia law, in their homes, their work and in their churches."
Describing his visit as a demanding but a pleasant one, Archbishop Carey added, "I hope my visit to Nigeria has strengthened the relationship between Christians and Muslims. This is very much what I want to see happen. I hope my visit will make the whole issue more visible internationally. I encourage dialogue on all levels and have stated clearly that violence was not an option."
According to one report the Archbishop, during his visit, told a group of Christians, "We can build a lot together on the basis of shared commitment to moral values based on God's commitment to us all." Archbishop Carey said, "We must affirm what we see of God in each other. Christians and Muslims have much in common."
The Church of Nigeria is one of the fastest growing Province in the Anglican Communion. Accompanying Archbishop Carey throughout the visit to the many dioceses was the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola.