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How faith-based groups can protect the planet

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Director General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano (left), President, Board of Trustees, Chief Philip Asiodu and the Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) United Kingdom, Mr. Martins Palmer during a presentation of plague to Palmer at the NCF’s 17th Chief Shafi Lawal Edu Memorial lecture in Lagos.


Disturbed by the humongous damage to biodiversity, experts have asked conservationists to utilise contemporary role of faiths to create investment in the environment and promote sustainable development.

They believe that the major religions of the world must develop environmental programmes based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices. Among their submission is the development of faith-based commitments or pledges of action on conservation.

In fact, the Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) United Kingdom, Mr. Martins Palmer who has been religious adviser on the environment to the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip since 1985, observed that it’s the major religions, which include, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and others that have been creating protected areas for nearly two thousand years and probably for much longer, before records were kept.

Speaking as the special guest at the Nigerian Conservation Foundation’s 17th Chief Shafi Lawal Edu’s memorial lecture held in Lagos, he disclosed that over 80 per cent of the world’s population belongs to one of the world’s major religion, adding that in many parts of the world, religious leaders are trusted more than politicians, the Non-Governmental Organizations, the United Nations or any other outsider body.

He lamented that conservationists constantly talk about sustainability yet the conservation/environment movement has for most of its short life span, largely shunned the oldest, most sustainable, powerful and nature driven-value driven groups in the world, namely the religion. Palmer posited that without the passive and sometimes active role of the faiths as either deliberate or accidental protectors of natural landscapes, ‘I doubt there would be much in the near-natural areas surviving and therefore worth protecting today. The faiths holds the keys not just to the past but also the present and the future’.

“The faiths are the landowners, 8per cent of the habitable land is owned by them and they are the fourth largest investing group in the world. “I recall when my colleagues and I started working with the Daoists and Buddhist in China and the Buddhists and Shamans in Mongolia in the early and mid-1990s how shocked some people in the mainstream conservation group were. They asked, ‘Why are you bothering with that lot? “Work with the government or work with business community” we were told. I am an historian of China and translator of its ancient classics and novels into English, so I know a little about this”.

“Here in Nigeria, go a few hundred miles north of Lagos and you come to one of the last remaining sacred forests traditionally associated with the Yoruba, The survival of the Osun-Oshogbo sacred forest is in part due to the very fact that it has been seen as sacred for centuries. But it required concerted action by conservationists, building upon the heritage of the sacred to ensure its survival amidst the dramatic changes and developments in Nigerian society over the last sixty or seventy years. The forest is still there due to this fusion of the sacred and conservation”, he stated.He advised environmentalists to build upon certain key aspects of faiths, which include, their wisdom and standing in the communities, their trustworthiness, involvement in the business of religion and learning from unusual revolution of faiths in the importance of celebrations. “If we manage to improve the world, celebrate; if we hit a goal-party”.

In his remarks, the Director General of NCF, Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano raised concerns that the world is in a state of existential crisis as a result of the damages been done to the environment. He said climate change is already affecting everything while human actions that include, polluting the mangrove, killing of wild life, draining of wetlands and the loss of about 400,000 hectares of forest yearly are impacting negatively on the environment.

Aminu-Kano therefore said there was the need to do something at the levels of government, NGOs, individual/citizens especially by appealing to the heart and minds of Nigerians having realized that the people are hugely religious in order to safe the entire world from going into extinction.While addressing the gathering, NCF President, Chief Izoma Philip Asiodu stated that at independence, Nigeria had about 35per cent forest cover but regretted that currently there has been a drastic reduction to just four per cent of forest cover hence the urgency to re-green Nigeria.

He thanked the founder of NCF for coming up with the initiative aimed at preserving nature as well as commended Chevron Nigeria Limited for its continued support and sponsorship of its activities.

In his words, “ A lot of works need to be done on how do we get the country to get serious about conservation. This occasion is one of the programmes to reach out to audience on effective action for conservation. It is time that we appeal to leaders and the citizens to be more active ambassadors on conservation. We need the planet earth in order to accommodate the population projected”.Meanwhile two PhD students, Mr. Soberekon Afiesimama of the University of Port Harcourt and Mr. Adeola Olakunle Jude of the University of Ibadan has been awarded the Chief Edu memorial research grant.


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