FG, CAN, JNI lock horns over US report of religious right violations

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The Federal Government on Sunday, December 22, 2019 faulted the United State’s designation of Nigeria as a country that engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.

The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this on Sunday in Abuja just as the Christian Association of Nigeria and the umbrella body of Nigerian Muslims on Sunday, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, locked horns over the assessment of the US on religious freedom in Nigeria.

The US in its Special Watch List placed Nigeria amongst countries that its government had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedom.

Mohammed  described this as misleading the US’ categorisation of Nigeria as a country engaging in violations of freedom of religion, stating that the tag is birthed from disgruntled politicians who have latched on to religion as their trump card to discredit the President Muhamadu Buhari-led Federal Government.

CAN, JNI  lock horns over report

The CAN spokesman, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, in a statement, said the US report on violations of religious freedom confirmed the fact that Christians had become endangered in Nigeria, but the JNI said the US should learn to respect other countries’ sovereignty.

The US, in a statement by its Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, had on Friday placed Nigeria and six other countries on the watch list of countries, which had been violating freedom of religion. Other countries on the list are Comoros, Russia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Nicaragua and Sudan.

The US also designated terrorist groups including al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as “entities of particular concern.”

Nigerians enjoy unhindered freedom to practise their religions – FG

Mohammed said Nigerians enjoyed unfettered freedom to practise their religions.

He stated that failed politicians, including respected leaders, latched on to religion as their trump card, especially in the run-up to the last elections.

The minister said the Buhari regime  was  aware of how the  opposition, in particular, had spared no resources in deriving political capital from the various security challenges in the country

He said, “The deliberate effort to give religious coloration to the farmers/herders clashes and the Boko Haram insurgency, in particular, has undoubtedly helped to mislead the US into concluding that the government is doing little or nothing to guarantee religious freedom in the country.

“But, as we have always said, the farmers-herders clashes have nothing to do with religion,  but everything to do with environmental and socio-economic realities. The religious tag given to the clashes has no basis in fact, but is very convenient for those who will very easily give the dog a bad name just to hang it.

“The Boko Haram terrorists are extreme fanatics who do not subscribe to the tenets of any religion, in spite of their pretence to Islamic adherence.”

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El-Zakzaky detention, purely a criminal matter – FG

On the detention of the leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, which was referred to in the report,  he described it a “purely a criminal matter, which is being handled by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Besides the Boko Haram insurgency,  the US report had cited the continued detention of the leader of the IMN; his wife, Zeenat and their followers by the Department of State Services and the police.

It had said, “Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria trended negatively in 2018. The Nigerian government at the national and state levels continued to tolerate violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, and suppressed the freedom to manifest religion or belief.”

Nigerian Christians are endangered – CAN

Commenting on the report, CAN in the statement on Sunday by its spokesman said the designation of Nigeria by the US Department of State was an indication that the global community was aware of the situation in the country.

It noted that religious freedom in Nigeria remained poor, adding that the federal and state governments continued to tolerate discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, “and suppressed the freedom to manifest religion or belief.”

CAN  said, “We are not happy that our country is being listed among the nations where religious intolerance is one of their hallmarks but it gladdens our hearts that, at least, the global community is not unaware of the fact that Nigerian Christians are becoming endangered species in their fatherland.”

CAN said it had drawn the attention of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to the situation during several meetings “but instead of correcting the imbalance, one of his aides is fond of abusing and insulting the association using every unprintable word.”

Oladeji referred to a statement by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad, a few days ago, where he called for an amendment to the constitution to accommodate more Sharia provisions.

The association noted, “If the government is sensitive to our yearnings and aspirations, how come no Christian is heading any of the three arms of government in the present dispensation? This is unprecedented in the history of this country since Independence.

“Is that one of the reasons why no Christian is worthy of occupying any of those sensitive positions? Another slap on our face is the composition of the National Security Council of the country in which 98 per cent of its members come from one part of the country and they are people of the same faith.”

CAN argued that there was evidence to prove that subtle Islamisation agenda and nepotism were real, noting that the key appointments made by Buhari since his re-election followed the same pattern.

The CAN spokesman also pointed out that Christians in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa  and Taraba states were being killed by Boko Haram terrorists and killer herdsmen “while the security agencies appear powerless, complacent and it seems as if the government of the day lacks the political will to deal with the criminals.”

Respect our sovereignty, JNI tells US

The Secretary General of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji  Abubakar Sa’ad-led JNI, Dr Abubakar Khalid – Aliyu, warned the  US against dabbling into the internal affairs of Nigeria on the issue of religious right.

According to the JNI secretary, Nigeria is a sovereign nation and should be allowed to face her own internal problems.

He accused the US of being biased against the Muslim community, pointing out that the US never accorded  Muslims the opportunity always given to Christians.

Khalid – Aliyu said, “I think countries should be wary of the troubles they are facing in their own countries and learn  not to become the watch dog of other countries.

“It is important that discerning minds look at their internal problems and try to solve them and not poke nose into any purported, perceived issues that happened in other countries.

“It will be tantamount to a big contradiction when people dabble into the affairs of governance of other countries. All countries have their different laws. They have their different ways of governance.

“Islamophobia is being noticed throughout the world, especially in the United States, where Muslims, especially, the females are being mocked, sometimes pushed, drawn into humiliation and stigmatisation because of the hijab they wear. Why can’t they give the Muslims their own rights there if they think there are rights elsewhere that are not observed?

“And if you look at Boko Haram, they killed Muslims more (90.9%) than people of other religions and the records are there. These are serious problems which no discerning mind can just brush away.”

He also said, “There is the issue of the Shi’ites everywhere and it is only in Nigeria they feel they deserve this. There are sanctions all over the place for Shi’ites and Iran. In Nigeria, it is a different ball game?  People flouted the laws and the laws of the country found them guilty and you want to import somebody’s law into another country. I think our sovereignty should be respected. I think Nigeria has come of age and should be allowed to face her problems.

On CAN, he said, “I don’t think the Christian Association of Nigeria should do this insensitive type of clapping, because to them, whatever that is Islam is disdained. There is a need for people to bring about reason. Let us look at things from a proper perspective.”

I am unaware of  religious right violation in Nigeria – ACF secretary

The Secretary General of the apex northern socio-political association, the Arewa Consultative Forum,  Anthony Sani , described the US report as unfair. Sani, who spoke to one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Sunday, said he was unaware of the existence of violations of religious right in the country.

Yetunde Adegoke

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