The Federal Government has rejected the US’ designation of Nigeria as a country that engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom, stressing that the tag stemmed from an orchestrated narrative by failed politicians, disgruntled elements and unpatriotic few.
TheNewspad had reported that the US government at the weekend, placed Nigeria to a “Special Watch List (SWL)” of Countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”
The inclusion of Nigeria in the religion violations list, which has continued to attract mixed reactions, was announced by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
“The Nigerian governments, 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,” the report said.
But in a statement, yesterday, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, rejected the tag.
He said Nigerians enjoy unfettered freedom to practice their religion and blamed failed politicians and disgruntled elements, some of them supposedly respected leaders, for latching on to religion as their trump card, especially in the run up to the last general elections, to oust the Buhari administration.
He explained that it was unfortunate that the US fell for the antics of “the discontented and the unpatriotic few, who will not hesitate to hang Nigeria out to dry on the altar of their inordinate ambition and their sheer animosity towards the Buhari-led administration.”
He said the Nigerian government was aware of how the political opposition in particular, had spared no resources in deriving political capital from the various security challenges in the country.
“The deliberate effort to give religious colouration to the farmers-herders clashes and the Boko Haram insurgency, in particular, has undoubtedly helped to mislead the U.S. 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 it is very convenient for those who will very easily give the dog a bad name just to hang it.
“On its part, 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,” he said.
When contacted, the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria said it had nothing to say regarding the government’s reaction.
Spokesperson, Embassy of the United States, Abuja, Glenn Guimond, who spoke with our correspondent after an initial mail requesting for the reaction, said “at this point in time, I have nothing to say.”
But the Presidency has said the decision by the US government to place Nigeria on its Watch List did make it a country of concern on religious freedom.
Presidency spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said Nigeria and the US would deliberate on the matter early next year.
According to him, placing Nigeria on U.S. watch list carries no immediate implication, and did not in any way make the country an area of concern as being asserted in some quarters.
“The correct US government position is that the addition of Nigeria to the watch list of the IRF does not make Nigeria a country of concern on religious freedom.
“The watch list carries no immediate implication, except for the need for both countries to discuss areas of concern over the next year. We are looking forward to such discussions with our partners, the US’’
He maintained that Nigeria had no policy that promotes one religion against the other.
According to Shehu, the right to freedom of worship for all citizens is guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.
“We have no policy that promotes one religion against the other. The right to freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and we have no problem observing that,’’ he said.
Senator: Religious persecution in Nigeria real
In spite of government and Presidency’s rebutaal, Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and lead promoter of the infamous Hate Speech Bill, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, has insisted religious persecution exist in Nigeria.
But he said the passage of the Hate Speech Bill under consideration by the Senate will address all issues of discrimination associated with religious and ethnic persecution in Nigeria.
“The escalating incidence of religious and ethnic violence in Nigeria stems from discrimination on almost all fronts which the Hate Speech Bill specifically seeks to address.
“The threat is real. With the inclusion of Nigeria on the watch list of the United States Government and sanctions to follow, it is only imperative for the legislature to act timely by introducing a law to deal with the menace which is becoming an embarrassment to the reputation of the country internationally.”
“Like I have always state, only those who are against the unity of Nigeria will oppose the bill by hiding under guise of protecting ‘Free Speech.’ The Hate Speech Bill targets acts of discrimination and absolutely not Freedom of Speech as those with sinister motives who are opposed to the bill are trying to mislead Nigerians into believing.
“Before Nigeria is consumed by religious and ethnic violence, we must all rise to save the country from people using hate speech for personal gains”.
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