On June 21st and June 22nd, 2023, the 5th Annual Strengthening Families Conference was held in Abuja Nigeria. Over 4000 individuals attended in person at the Abuja International Conference Center, and tens of thousands participated on-line. The conference, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, brought together educators, religious leaders, and Government and Community leaders from throughout the world to discuss important issues relating to families. Musical guests included the Bonner Family and the Festival of Praise Choir and Orchestra.
The Master of Ceremonies for the conference was Eugenia Abu, one of Nigeria’s frontline broadcast journalists. The Chairperson of the conference was HRH Alh. Dr. Yahaya Abubakar CFR, the Etsu-Nupe and ruler of all Nupe people. The Etsu-Nupe was represented by HRM Alhaji Adami Baba Yunusa, the Ona of Abaji and Chairman FTC Council of Chiefs. The guest of honor was His Excellency, Fr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor of the Enugu State 2015-2023. He was represented by former Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Lolo Cecilia Ezeilo.
The theme of this year’s conference was Strengthening Marriages. Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, General Authority Seventy and President of the Africa West Area, was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference along with Sister Wendy Nielsen. “The Church of Jesus Christ believes marriage is sacred and was ordained of God before the foundation of the world,” Elder Nielsen stated. “We define a successful marriage as one where both spouses make the conscious decision to love and respect each other throughout their marriage. God’s love naturally radiates from their union.”
Sister Wendy Nielsen said, “Our ability to reach a fulness of happiness and joy in this life, and to achieve glory and exaltation in the life to come, are inextricably linked to our marriage covenants and the development of God-centered families.”
Elder Nielsen also presented the Family Values Award to Nigerian television personality Charles Inojie, star and writer for the popular television comedy series, the Johnsons. The Johnson’s provide a positive view of African families and is revered throughout the continent.
There were several speakers and goodwill messages throughout the conference. These speakers represented the diversity of nationalities and depth of experience in the Africa West Area.
“Same rights, same obligations,” stated Justice Finda Matturi Jones, Senior Justice in Sierra Leone. “Equality in marriage is part of God’s divine purpose for developing strong families.
Rt. Reverend Oscar C. Amoah, an Anglican Bishop from Kumasi Ghana, stated, “In the Catholic Church we teach that the future of the world is dependent upon how we protect the family. Family should be the center of our lives. The future of the world is dependent on this.”
The Immediate past Deputy Governor of Enugu State Nigeria, H.E. Lolo Cecilia Ezeilo asked, “Who is teaching our children? If it’s not the parents, it’s social media or contemporary personalities. It’s up to the parents whether or not they are taught the values of God or the values of the world.”
Elder D. Martin Goury, and Area Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire, discussed conflicts in marriage and shared,” In order to maintain our commitment to love, cherish, and honor our spouses, we need to yield ourselves and our rights, first to God and then to one another.”
From the United States, Sharon Slater, President of Family Watch International spoke on how to strengthen families by immunizing our children from the pressures of our day. “One of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother, and for a mother to love their father, setting a positive example.”
Yovo Kokouvi Ketowotsa, a traditional chief of the Kpogan Village in Togo, urged young people to marry, not to wait or live together. “Don’t let age or finances stop you from marrying. Marriage is the key to the stability of a family. Observe God in your marriage and things will work out.”
Panels consisting of experts from law, religion, and education discussed some of the issues surrounding marriage in Africa. During these discussions the panels, from different countries in West Africa, discussed marriage issues specific to Africans. Questions came from different countries and from the local audience.
“Marriage is an occupation, not a hobby,” said Pastor Tunde Dada of the Shining Light Church in Abuja Nigeria, during one of the panel discussions. “It requires work, dedication, and sacrifice. Good marriages don’t just happen, they are the result of two people working together to raise up a family to God.”
In another panel A J Suleiman, Professor of Law at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, stated,” We must choose to produce light. God created Adam and Eve, with all of their differences, to bring light to the world. We bring light through yielding and reconciling within our marriages.”
Closing remarks at the conference were given by Her Worship Binta Janneh Jallow, Deputy Lord Mayor of Kanifing Municipality in the Gambia.
The conference was highlighted by several inspiring musical performances. The first day of the conference saw performances by the Bonner Family from the United States, Mitchelle Ajeigbe from Ghana, and the Festival of Praise Choir and Symphony from Nigeria. The second day witnessed performances by Doris Cecilia Ogana, DeeDiva and orchestra, the Nigerian National Dance Troupe, and the combined 3 Stake Choir from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Abuja. The combined musicians provided a beautiful rendition of ‘Families Can Be Together Forever’ during the conference.
Over 20 booths were available for conference participants with a number of religious and community based groups represented alongside media and businesses.
The Strengthening Families Conference will be held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in 2024. At the close of the conference Elder Goury welcomed Sekou Aboidji Ehublah Marthe, from the Ministry of Family, Woman and Child in Cote d’Ivoire and officially transitioned the conference to Abidjan.