The Federal Government has rejected the US designation of Nigeria as a country that engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom, saying the iniquitous tag stems from an orchestrated narrative that has long been discredited.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the good people of Nigeria enjoy unfettered freedom to practise 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 said it is 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 Administration.
The Minister said the Nigerian government is acutely 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 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.
“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.
Alhaji Mohammed said the good news is that the government has succeeded in curbing the farmers-herders clashes through the implementation of proactive and multi-dimensional strategy, which is yielding remarkable results, just as it has largely defeated the Boko Haram insurgency. On the El-Zakzaky issue, which was referred to in the report by the US government, he described it as a purely criminal matter, which is being handled by a court of competent jurisdiction. The Minister said while the government welcomes constructive criticism from any quarter, it rejects any attempt to sow the seed of mistrust among the various religious groups in the country.
A lot of Nigerians rebuffed the Minister’s statement and agreed with the US, citing that there is indeed a high level of religious oppression and violence mostly against Christians in Nigeria, thus making it an uphill task to express their faith freely, giving instances of christians being major targets for kidnappers and gunmen; also victims of herdsmen, Boko Haram and fulani militia.