From George Orji and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja:
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is in Nigeria for the THISDAY’s Nigeria at 50, 2010 Awards, yesterday relived the diplomatic interactions that contributed to the success of their administrations.
Speaking at an Inter-faith Malaria Initiative organised by the Nigeria Inter-faith Action Association with funding support from Federal Government, World Bank, Centre for Inter-faith Action on Global Poverty and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation held at the Kuje Town Hall in Abuja, Obasanjo said the former British premier made a significant contribution to Nigeria’s exit from the Paris Club and other creditor nations.
Obasanjo, whose entry into the venue of the event elicited wild, nostalgic cheers from the audience, said while he travelled round the globe to get Nigeria off the Paris Club debt yoke, he received promises from world leaders which were not fruitful thus prompting his government to search for a facilitator and a member of the Group of Seven industrialised nations (G7) which they found in Mr. Blair.
He said the debt relief allowed the country to channel resources into the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) projects notably funds needed to fight infant mortality and morbidity occasioned by such diseases as malaria.
“Since I left public office, I have engaged in issues of health and education which are very critical and I have always looked for an opportunity to meet Tony Blair and say thank you.
“In my eight years of leadership, Blair was in the vanguard of support in the area of health but more importantly in the area of debt relief. I visited world leaders but we needed somebody in G7 to get us debt relief. Blair led G7 to get us debt relief.
“What that has done for us is that the money we would have used to service debt is now being used on MDGs for infant mortality and other things. The money we used for the MDGs came from there,” he said.
He commended the inter-faith initiative which he said was deployed under his administration to tackle HIV/AIDS and it worked.
“People hear Nigeria as a land of religious crisis and destruction of lives. This one is about peace. Why are we not telling the world that we are religious and not religious fanatics. What we hear after the terror incident involving Nigeria is that when we call terrorism, Americans catch cold,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
In his remarks, the former British premier recalled that he spoke severally with President Obasanjo on his African Commission initiative which led to the commitment of huge sums of money to alleviation of poverty in Africa for which the former president was instrumental.
He commended religious leaders notably the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop John Onaiyekan, for their commitment in the fight against malaria and noted that the coming together of religious leaders on the effort to eradicate malaria and other initiatives would go a long way in ensuring religious harmony in the country.
“The issue of religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th century. In an era of globalisation, there is nothing more important than getting people of different faiths and cultures to understand each other better and live in peace and mutual respect; and to give faith itself its proper place in the future,” he said.
Also yesterday, Blair visited Acting President Goodluck Jonathan at his Akinola Aguda residence, Presidential Villa, Abuja and commended him for holding the country together in the face of the daunting political leadership facing the country.
Blair also expressed concern about recent political developments in the country and thanked Jonathan for the skilful way he has handled the country.
Fielding questions from newsmen at the end of about 30 minutes parley with Jonathan, Blair expressed satisfaction that the relation between Nigeria and the United Kingdom had remained very strong over the years. He expressed the hope that Nigeria would continue to play a leading role in the African continent as it’s mandatory on her.
Said Blair: “First of all I would say I am delighted to have seen the Acting President and to discuss with him and hear from him the situation here in Nigeria and the wider region and we were able to talk about some of the issues that are of mutual interest to the relationship between Britain and Nigeria. That relationship is a strong one, and I want it to stay strong.
“I have done lots of work with the previous president of Nigeria while I was in the office and all of Africa and we know that without Nigeria fulfilling its potentials and exacting its leadership, it will be greatly difficult for the whole of Africa.
“I said to the Acting President that I want to thank him for the wise way he and the institution of Nigeria government have handled themselves in the last few days and I want to say it has been a pretty difficult situation and I think they have handled it with skill.”
When asked what the response of Jonathan was on the issues discussed. Blair said, “He was explaining to me the importance of maintaining the right constitutional process and we both agree that one of the greatest things to have happened is returning to democratic government and we would want to see that maintained.
“There is no place for nothing else and I am actually optimistic that this will happen, there is the great desire on the part of the legislature and the acting president himself to make sure that even in what seems to be unique and difficult situation, the country has been able to function and move forward in a proper way and in a way that helps its people,” he said.
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