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Between Pope Francis and Amina Mohammed

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

A few weeks ago, Fortune, a New York-based multinational business magazine published by Time Inc., officially released its annual ranking of the world’s 50 greatest leaders for 2016. Fortune’s 2016 ranking of the world’s most influential leaders had both Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.5 billion Catholics, and Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment on the list. While Pope Francis (79) came fourth, right after Jeff Bezos (52), founder of Amazon; Angela Merkel (61), Chancellor of Germany; and Aung San Suu Kyi (70), the Burmese politician and leader of National League for Democracy; Amina Mohammed (54) came 39th on the list.

Pope Francis, according to Fortune, has the distinction of being one of three leaders who have made Fortune’s list every year of its existence. The year 2015, according to the magazine, was the year of Pope Francis the diplomat. The first Latin American pope played a key role in brokering a peace deal between the United States of America and Cuba, writing letters to both presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, encouraging the two nations to find a common ground. For the first time ever, Francis travelled to the U.S. to deliver his message of social justice in the world’s most powerful country. The pontiff dug particularly sharply into what he called the “dung of the devil,” criticising “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human face.” His groundbreaking encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ calling for “swift and unified global action” in defence of the environment undoubtedly gave momentum to the effort that led to a global climate change pact in Paris in December 2015.

The Pope’s unapologetic advocacy on behalf of the poor, immigrants and the environment has only boosted his popularity. When he visited refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos in April 2016, he returned to the Vatican with three Syrian Muslim families in order to highlight the plight of thousands of migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East. In March 2015 when he launched an Instagram account, he gained one million followers in 24 hours. But the tension between the Catholic Church’s culturally conservative adherents and its more socially progressive followers remains among Francis’ most sensitive pastoral challenges. On this, he continues to thread a “tight needle,” making the Church welcoming to those on the existential margins of life while assuring traditionalists that he is still in line with Church doctrine.

For Amina Mohammed, as right hand woman to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on post-2015 development planning, she had to rally 193 countries to endorse the same objectives for the next 15 years. Acting as the point person for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she helped bridge the divide between developing countries and First World nations, and by September 2015 all member states signed on to 17 goals related to wiping out poverty and tackling climate change. Now Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, Amina is trying to make renewable energy a bigger factor in our country’s energy strategy, while working to preserve the environment.

Before becoming Environment Minister, Amina had worked as Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Millennium Development Goals, serving three presidents for a combined period of six years. In this position, she was in charge of designing and developing government projects to reduce poverty around the country. In 2005, she was charged with the coordination of the debt relief funds towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria. From 2002 to 2005, she served as coordinator of the Task Force on Gender and Education for the United Nations Millennium Project.

In her new turf, she is gradually changing the narrative among Nigerians on environmental protection, especially through the unveiling of plans to turn waste into wealth. In her effort to safeguard the environment, she recently stated that, “By 2019, we will end an era of plastic bags, pure water sachets and bottled water as waste on the streets. We’re not banning them because we cannot, but getting the plastic companies to collect them, pay for them and we turn waste to wealth and they recycle.”

Elsewhere in other parts of the world, non-biodegradable products such as plastic bottles and plastic bags have been fizzled out of circulation because of their dangerous impact on the environment. She has also shown real commitment in cleaning up the Niger Delta after many years of environmental degradation.

Pope Francis and Amina Mohammed share a common ground with regard to the protection of the environment. When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid a visit to Nigeria in August 2015, it was Amina and a few other high-level UN officials who put together a meeting in which John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, other faith leaders and civil society actors, shared with Ban Ki-moon their concerns regarding development in Nigeria. During the forum, Cardinal Onaiyekan, who had participated at a Vatican conference preceding the draft of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, addressed some burning issues regarding climate change and its impact on development in Nigeria. The event was well-programmed with the intention of getting Ban Ki-moon to “carry what he hears and sees in Nigeria with him to his subsequent meeting in Paris on climate change and back to New York from where he must address all issues of development, the climate and violent conflict on a global scale,” wrote a UN official involved in preparing the meeting.

Like Pope Francis, Amina understands the political and ideological underpinnings of a global capitalist system that feeds on the poor. That is why the intricate connection between global poverty and climate change is not lost on them. When asked how she sees the post-2015 development framework, Amina quipped: “I see the SDGs as my 17 children, and every single one of them is special in a different way, but together they are amazing.” For both Francis and Amina, putting people at the centre of every political, economic and technological decision is what really matters. But the driving force for them is faith. For Francis this is an established fact. For Amina it is a deducible truth: “I think having faith is incredibly important. I think the only person that never fails you is God,” she said in a March 2016 interview with Huffington Post.

This crossbreeding and bridge building between Pope Francis and Amina Mohammed highlight the fact that irrespective of our faith traditions we all have a moral responsibility to protect God’s creation and to promote responsible and sustainable use of the earth’s resources. We can all collaborate as members of the human society in pursuing this common good, knowing that we have no other option: If we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves!
Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja can be reached via:emmaojeifo@yahoo.com.


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