H.E. Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu

H.E. Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations.UN Photo Evan Schneider

Spirituality, Education, and Peace

Each day in this house we encounter many of the world’s greatest challenges: the scourge of war, along with the scourge of poverty, disease, and injustice. Citizens of the world persistently cry out for peace, food, clean water, education, and governments that serve their legitimate aspirations.

In many countries around the world conflicts have occurred between peoples of different regional, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. While the majority of the people are peaceloving, there are those who have chosen the path of violence. They fan the flames of conflict and often appeal to narrow sectarian interests.

Such perpetrators misuse the very ideals and principles that lie at the heart of every religion. For this reason, many observers are inclined to conclude that religion is the root of the problem, whereas in reality it is the misuse of religion by corrupt leaders that is at the heart of the problem.

I can say this because I’ve just completed a two-year term here in the Security Council. We have become increasingly cognizant of religion. Many of us who serve in various capacities within this UN community are believers ourselves, and our religions and spiritual ideals undergird, encourage, and even inspire us to do our best as we pursue our daily duties.

It is common knowledge that the world’s great religions have stridently sought to teach us the ways of peace. From the Torah of Judaism to the Qur’an of Islam, the essential message is peace. Long before the United Nations was established, religions have paved the path to peace for millennia, and while we can each cite many a failure and flaw among these efforts, we must be careful not to cast the first stone without reflecting on our own failings.

I believe that meetings such as this can play a very central role in ameliorating both the interreligious conflict and other types of conflict. If we can promote greater interfaith dialogue and cooperation by encouraging mutual respect and appreciation, then there can be greater harmony not only among religions but also among nations.

Today should therefore be a day of reflection. We should take a moment to remember that we are meeting here on behalf of those who face grave dangers all over the world. Let us empathize with them today and always, and let us also hope and believe that we can make a difference.

I want to say that my experience in Nigeria as a multi-religious, multi-linguistic, and multicultural society has taught us that diversity can be a great asset for any country if properly managed. It is in recognition of this that my government established a Nigerian interreligious council, co-chaired by leaders of two main religions in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam. And they have been very vociferous and rigorous in their role in advocating interreligious and intercommunal dialogue.

The theme that we have this year, common ground for common good, epitomizes our common humanity and our common destiny. All of humanity shares a common aspiration, the aspiration for a successful life for the present and a secure future for our children.

We also share a common destiny irrespective of our differences. This is why the World Interfaith Harmony Week and similar initiatives are crucial for the survival of mankind.

The elements that we talk about today are not only crucial for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous community, but also constitute the ties that bind all of us together as one human family. The common ground is there, but it is all too often ignored. We need to consolidate this common ground by teaching and educating our young people to become a new generation of peace, not war, not conflict – a generation that practices compassion and service to others.

We must demonstrate to our children that diversity can be embraced, not ignored, not feared, and that our differences of race, religion, ethnicity, and indeed culture have made the tapestry of mankind even more beautiful and even more meaningful. In all this, women are the greatest and most effective mediators.

I believe that this dialogue with spiritual leaders, our spiritual fathers, is a great beginning that should lead us along the path of peace. It is a great point of departure. We are uplifted and we are inspired. Let us leave this place today even more empowered, even more strengthened to make a lasting difference to the world.

H.E. Amb. U. Joy Ogwu, OFR, serves as the first female Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations. She was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria (2006-2007) and Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (2001-2006). Ambassador Ogwu has served on numerous Nigerian delegations to the UN General Assembly and on the Multinational United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa. She was appointed a member of the UN Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters and served as Chairman for 2006, the first African woman to serve in that capacity. Her first book, Nigeria Foreign Policy: Alternative Futures (1986), became a classic text for the study of Nigeria’s foreign policy. She holds the National Meritorious Service Award of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A Professor of Political Science and International Relations, she has given lectures at the Command and Staff College in Jaji, the then National War College, and the Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies.

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