Archbishop Rev. Dr Musa Panti Filibus will serve as the 13th president of the global communion of national and regional Lutheran churches. He is the second church leader from Africa to hold the position.
Nigerian Archbishop Rev. Dr Musa Panti Filibus has today been officially elected as President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) by the Twelfth Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia. He is the second church leader from Africa to hold the position since the LWF was founded in 1947.
Fillibus hails from north-eastern Nigeria, which is experiencing ongoing violence provoked by the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. Since 2009 more than 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the insurgency, alongside widespread displacement which is leading to a growing humanitarian crisis. DW spoke with Fillibus about his new role and some of the biggest issues facing his home country.
DW: You are from the north-east region of Nigeria which has been struggling against the Boko Haram insurgency. What impact will you have in your new position?
Archbishop Rev. Dr Musa Panti Filibus: Well first of all, I want to make it clear that my position is not a position that is only about Nigeria or Africa. It's a global position. The election into the office as the President of the Lutheran World Federation is a responsibility that calls for the oversight of churches in 149 countries around the world and we are talking about 72 million people in these churches. So my responsibility goes beyond one region. I am aware and recognize that to be a global leader also means that you are able to play a critical role within your specific region. So I'm coming from north-eastern Nigeria, a region that is deeply unsettled by so many challenges – for example the issue of the insurgency. But the insurgency is not only limited to Nigeria, there are other parts of the world which are also dealing with this issue. So my role within my local society in Nigeria would be how I can collaborate with so many players on the ground. And then how could I now assume a global responsibility and give support to local initiatives, either through collaboration with religious leaders and collaboration with government as well as supporting the successes the government is making. I think those are some of the contributions I see myself bringing in my position.
Most Nigerian youth do not seem inclined to religious activities. What will you do to improve this?
I am not sure that is the reality. I think young people are interested in religion. The challenge comes when they are not given the right message, and it becomes a problem for them when they take in whatever message that they receive from their religious teachers. I think this is where we have an issue in northern Nigeria – that young people are brainwashed and they are taught to be violent. They are taught to hate and I don't think we should be doing this. If we are teaching them the right message, the message of love and understanding what it means to be a citizen, I believe they will roll with it. And we are not only talking about leaders for tomorrow, young people want to assume leadership positions even today. So I would disagree a little bit to say they are not interested in religion. I think our young people are interested in religion, but are we giving them the right message and the right discipline they need? I think this is the question we have to deal with.
Gender inequality in Nigeria is another big challenge. What are your thoughts on this?
I think we are not the only ones facing gender inequality, I think gender equality and gender disparity is an issue everywhere. But as a community of churches, the Lutheran World Federation has recognized the critical importance of creating possibilities and empowering men and women, both of them as created in God's image, and who both have a responsibility and role in shaping society, from home, to our communities and to our government. And I think we are discovering that the more we leave women behind, the more men continue to occupy the public space. We are having problems because we are leaving a large percentage of people behind when they have critical contributions to make. I think as we move into the next generation, any country or society that neglects the role of women, they are also saying that they are not prepared to move forward. So as the leader of the LWF, I am committed to continuing to promote conversation and the possibilities for women to also participate in leadership and government, or in church or society – whatever the possibilities are – and we want to nurture those possibilities.
Women pastors are also looking for more opportunities to participate in the church. How will you encourage them?
Well, we do that through the member churches. They think as a communion, as a worldwide church organization. What we do is we encourage churches to find ways that they can allow women to also participate in the ministry as coworkers. I think we can see that many churches have embraced the fact that women have a very important role in the ministry of the church. So what we are doing is creating platforms for continued conversation and encouraging churches not only to ordain women, but also to allow them the space to carry out their work within the church. And I think those mechanisms that we have developed over the years; we will continue to build on them in the years to come.But we are also eager to partner with other ecumenical bodies on this issue. And it's possible to also collaborate with the government, because the issue of gender is not only the issue of the church, it's an issue for the entire society. We want to be partners in that respect so that the church and society can work together to address the issue of women and gender disparity.
Interview: Aliyu Mohammad Waziri