You’ve Been Prepared to “broaden your roles as peacemakers, faith leaders”: Cardinal in Nigeria to Graduates

Some of the Peace actors trained by Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) to combat violent conflicts in their various localities across the African continent. Credit: ACI Africa

The Cohort of Fellows who graduated from Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) on May 4 were “fully equipped” with what they need to contribute to peacemaking and to spearhead faith practice, John Cardinal Onaiyekan has said.

In his address at the May 4 graduation of the 6th Cohort of Fellows, Cardinal Onaiyekan congratulated the 280 graduates for “triumphantly” meeting the mark, which he described as a “remarkable achievement.”

“I am thrilled to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all of you, the graduates who have journeyed from various corners of Nigeria, as well as the many who have joined us from other nations across Africa,” he said.

The Nigerian-born Cardinal added, “After a year brimming with rigorous theoretical study and profound practical experiences within your communities, you have triumphantly met the mark. You are now celebrated as esteemed Peace Fellows of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace. Congratulations on this remarkable achievement!”

He highlighted what is expected of the graduates, saying, “As you head back to your communities, remember that you are now fully equipped to elevate, enhance, and broaden your roles as peacemakers and faith leaders.”


“Step forward with boldness. Never doubt the profound impact your efforts will have in fostering peace wherever you go,” the Nigerian Cardinal, who was at the helm of Abuja Archdiocese till his retirement in November 2019 said.

He encouraged the 280 graduates to “use the wealth of experience acquired during the programme to make positive impacts in society.”

The Catholic Church leader, who previously served as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said COFP Fellows were equipped to “serve as emissaries of peace, having undergone comprehensive training in interreligious dialogue, conflict management, and mediation.”

“Consequently, they are entrusted with upholding the highest standards of integrity and proficiency,” he added.

COFP initiative, he went on to say, is “aimed at providing a platform to train religious leaders, young Nigerians among others as peace advocates for promoting peace and security through its Annual Fellowship Programme.”

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The Nigerian Catholic Church leader, who started his Episcopal Ministry in January 1983 as Auxiliary Bishop of Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese lamented the failure to adhere to religious practices, saying that the sacred realm of religion has been “influenced for selfish gains thereby tarnishing its true essence.” 

He emphasized the need to “reclaim religion from those who misuse it for their personal gains.”

“Nigerians must transform religion into a formidable force to foster unity and national cohesion,” the Archbishop emeritus of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese said, adding that the mission of COFP is to “champion peace and justice through powerful conduit of  interfaith collaboration.”

Speaking to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the May 4 event, the Executive Director of COFP, Sr. Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, said that the Catholic entity has trained 300 peace actors from across 17 African countries as a way of combating violent conflict on the continent.

“The year 2023 bore witness to a surge in conflict across various regions, resulting in the internal displacement of many people. The repercussions of such conflicts and insecurity have inflicted severe blows upon livelihoods, particularly affecting farming activities, thereby exacerbating food insecurity in the entire country,” Sr. Ogochukwu said.


The member of the Congregation of Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy (DMMM), who serves as Chair of the Religions for Peace International Women’s Coordinating Committee added, “Many communities across Africa grapple with both internal strife and external threats of violence and insecurity on a recurring basis. In the light of these challenges, it becomes increasingly evident that conventional approaches are insufficient in addressing the complexities of our contemporary world.”

She went on to lament, “Religion is heavily manipulated in Africa by politicians, by those in politics. They feel that religion is a viable tool for them to use in disorganizing communities, to use in bringing about conflict. This is why they have for a very long time used religion as a tool for dividing communities.”

Sr. Ogochukwu lauded the COFP initiative, saying, “What we have done today, is to equip these leaders and to officially commission them and tell them that, look, you have received the training, you have received everything it takes to go into your community and to begin to impart peace.”

The Catholic Church, she went on to say, is already doing a lot in “promoting peace in Africa, because I already know different Dioceses and different organizations in Catholic Church that are already doing a lot of work in different areas, empowering youth, and women, even religious leaders, talking so much about peace and about the importance of living together.”

Among 6th Cohort of Fellows, who graduated during the May 4 event in Nigeria were natives of six other nations, including Sudan, Zambia, Cameroon, Kenya, Niger and Uganda.

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Abah Anthony John contributed to the writing of this story

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