The Federal Government has condemned the call by five US senators for the re-designation of Nigeria as a country of particular concern over alleged violation of religious freedom.
DIPLOMATIC DIARY had reported that the senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken urging him to immediately redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act.
In December 2020, the US listed Nigeria among countries blacklisted for “violating religious freedom” under the CPC designation. However, in November 2021, Nigeria was removed from the list.
But in a letter jointly signed by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the senators questioned why Nigeria was “inexplicably” removed “despite no demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions”.
The letter, dated June 29, 2022, cited the attack on St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo state and the lynching of Deborah Samuel, a female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, as cases of “religious persecutions” in Nigeria..
But responding to the allegation in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed said the call was based on “false premise and misunderstanding of what is going on in the country.
“You will recall that only few months ago, Nigeria was taken out of the list of countries of particular concern because it was proven that there is no iota of true in the allegation that Christians or any religion was being persecuted or people were not allowed to practice religion of their choice.
“We want to say once again that Nigeria does not have a policy that denies people the freedom to practice their religion.
“The country also does not have a policy of violation freedom of religion and it is not true that Nigeria persecute anybody on account of his or her faith”, he said.
Mohammed said the constitution of Nigeria guarantees the right of anyone to practice their own faith without molestation, and that the government has always guarded the constitutional provision jealously.
He said commentators who are not well-versed in the politics and happenings in Nigeria took criminalities and communal clashes as issues of religious persecution.
“Nobody in Nigeria is being persecuted But we have issues of criminality going on and the criminals really do not make distinction of any religion,” he added.
“They kidnap for money; they hold people on ransom irrespective of their religion and there are some issues of communal matters dating back to many years.
“If statistic is to be taken, I can say confidently that as many Muslims as Christians have been victims of these criminals”, he added.
According to the minister, the only known group that targets Christians is the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
But he said the federal government has mounted large-scale military operations to wipe out the criminals which is yielding results.
“What ISWAP is doing is that because of their dwindling influence they are now attacking churches and Christians in order to create crisis between various religious group. But as a government, we are after them”, he said, adding that some NGOs are feeding the international community with wrong information to get funds from donors.
The minister solicited support from multilateral organisations and foreign countries in tackling the insecurity in Nigeria.