ABUJA - The launch of a non-profit foundation by former British prime minister Tony Blair with the goal of promoting peace between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria is raising suspicions among faith leaders in the heavyweight African country.
We totally reject this erroneous notion because it is far from the truth. Nigeria is not at war, Prof Ishaq Lakin Akintola, the head of the influential Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), told OnIslam.net.
Muslims and Christians belong to the faith community and, despite some misunderstanding caused by some miscreants, we remain brothers and sisters.
Blair launched his Faith Foundation in Nigeria last month to help promote peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians in the country.
The Foundation says its objective is to work in Nigeria to facilitate truce between Christians and Muslim communities.
But faith leaders dismiss the impression given by the Blair Foundation as if there is a raging war between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.
Such impression gives us concern as a people and the earlier we reject it the better for our country and our children, Prof Akintola said.
We are not enemies and we are not at war.
He said while efforts to widen ethno-religious understanding are welcome, it is important we don't allow anybody, especially from the outside, to tell our story for us.
Whatever violent crisis you see flows essentially from social challenges including poverty and illiteracy, he said.
Launched in New York in 2008, the Blair Faith Foundation says it aims to promote respect, friendship and understanding between the major religious faiths.
It also wants to make the case for faith as a force for good and encourage inter-faith initiatives to tackle global poverty and conflict.
Christian leader also raised suspicions about the foundation's role.
Let nobody mistake what is going on in the country for a religious war, Father Hassan Kukah told OnIslam.net.
We don't have religious war and it is agreed by all of us that what is going on in terms of Boko Haram and other violent crisis has nothing to do with religious doctrines.
It is agreed that we are brothers, Christian and Muslims. So let nobody give the impression that we are at war with one another, the famed catholic priest said.
Mallam Qasim Badrudeen, President of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), also termed the Blair Foundation's objective as suspicious.
Everyone who has sincerely followed events in the country knows Muslims and Christians have no problems with one another and that what some people call religious crisis is nothing but political contraption by those exploiting mass poverty and mass illiteracy for their own political gains.
Daily Trust, an outspoken national daily based in the country's Muslim North, has also denounced the Foundation.
That (there is an ongoing religious war) would be a grossly mistaken notion, a fact that he (Blair) must have realized by now, it said in an editorial.
While Blair was in the country, he would have observed that the fellow-feeling and mutual goodwill between adherents of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria is generally healthy and strong.
It is likely that from the outside, many may think that because of recent attacks on churches and mosques and the tit-for-tat retaliation that sometimes follow that a war of the religions could be on-going, it said.
Nothing can be further from the truth. The bombing acts are the handiwork of a fringe group bent on sowing distrust between the religions. Mercifully, the cord that binds Nigerians together has proved to be strong and resilient.
Christian and Muslim leaders also cast doubts on Blair's credentials to promote peace and harmony in Nigeria.
Truth is that Blair's profile as pro-war British leader rubbishes the so-called agenda of his Foundation, Father Kukah said.
And it is on this basis that our people must watch very closely the activities of the group in the country.
During his tenure as a British premier, Blair led with then US president George W. Bush the war in Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Akintola, the MURIC leader, said he does not rule out existence of sinister motives, calling on the security agencies and political leaders to be wary of the organization's activities.
Abiodun Aremu, a popular Nigerian activist, agrees.
Under normal circumstances, Blair and his co-conspirator George Bush ought to be tried for war crimes for launching such a devastating war that killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq on the false claim that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMDs, he said.
Aremu said he views the launching of the Blair Faith Foundation with deep suspicion.I would not be surprised if espionage and other things are part of the agenda. This is why we must be vigilant always.