I’m passionate about promoting peace-building, social justice and sustainable development in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Here I share my highlights and hopes from the intergovernmental ministerial conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB).

At the FoRB conference on 5 – 6 July, 800 delegates attended from more than 100 different countries, representing an array of different faiths and belief groups.

It was a noble display of unity from citizens and countries across the globe to stand together once more, side by side, and unilaterally speak out and condemn persecution based on one’s faith or belief.

A whole host of events and fringe events took place across the conference, centred around the themes of prevention, protection and promotion. Each panel contained distinguished guests who shared first-hand experience of how the right to freedom of religion or belief is being violated all over the world.


Working closely with parliamentarians

A personal highlight for me was witnessing Jeremy Hunt MP chair an event with Baroness Cox, Jim Shannon MP, Timothy Cho, the Bishop of Truro, Kwankwa Nqabayomzi and Daniel Toft Jakobsen, where the severity of the issues in Nigeria were discussed. Baroness Cox and Jim Shannon shared their personal experiences from a recent visit as part of a parliamentary delegation.

Other side-line events ensured that Nigeria remained part of the conversation throughout the ministerial. The first of these – entitled Nigeria: A Time to Act’, took place on the first day of the conference, in collaboration with Open Doors. This event was chaired by Brendan O’Hara MP and provided valuable insight into the growth of Islamic extremism in the Sahel, which is jeopardising faith communities and regional security.

Later that day, Damian Thompson (journalist and host of the Holy Smoke religious affairs podcast by The Spectator) explored the challenges that are likely to result if Nigeria’s security problems are not effectively addressed. His talk, entitled The Nigerian Consequences’, zeroed in on the persecution of Nigeria’s religious communities and delicately forecasted the likely scenario, not only for Nigeria, but also Africa and Europe as whole.

Film viewing in central London

On 7 July, Blood, tears, and anger film was shown at St. Martins on the Fields West London. It is a documentary covering stories of people caught up in Nigeria’s security crisis. It offered attendees time to reflect before a lunchtime meeting entitled Benue Bleeds…’ with the governor of Benue, arranged in collaboration with the Gideon & Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation. This was a much needed event for the Nigerian diaspora to explore ways in which they can make a difference to the unfolding events in their homeland.

"Politicians and faith communities need to take a more active role in what is going on and lead an international response to stop the persecution of religious groups."

Nigeria: less talk more action

The ministerial conference certainly put FoRB violations across the world under the spotlight, but it’s impossible to escape the feeling that it’s time for less talk and more action. Nigeria is one country where this is clearly apparent – for too long both the UK and Nigerian governments have proudly championed concerns around FoRB, whilst refusing to acknowledge the religious component to an already volatile cocktail of insecurity plaguing Nigeria.

While signing Nigeria’s pledge to uphold FoRB, one of 47 nations to do so, the Nigerian ambassador to the UK stated that this fundamental human right is already upheld across the country, seemingly unaware or unconcerned by the recent extra-judicial death sentences handed out to Deborah Samuel Yakubu and Ahmad Usman, or the imprisonment of Mubarak Bala.

Until eyes are opened to the reality of the situation in countries like Nigeria, the FoRB ministerial conference will remain a performance in British politics for those on the ground suffering. In the words of foreign secretary, Liz Truss, The freedom to believe, to pray, and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe, is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger, and ultimately more successful.”

In the meantime, kidnappings and killings are continuing to take place, unabated in Nigeria. Therefore, politicians and faith communities need to take a more active role in what is going on and lead an international response to stop the persecution of religious groups and uphold FoRB as the fundamental human right that it is.