The Federal Government has condemned the call by five US senators for re-designation of Nigeria as a country of particular concern over alleged violation of religious freedom.
It would be recalled that last month, the five US senators asked Antony Blinken, US secretary of State, to re-designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern, citing 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.
The US government had in December 2020, listed Nigeria among countries blacklisted for “violating religious freedom” under the CPC designation but Nigeria was removed from the list a year later, in November 2021.
But responding to the allegation in an interview with NAN yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the call was based on false premise and misunderstanding of what was going on in the country.
He said: “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 of freedom of religion and it is not true that Nigeria persecute anybody on account of his or her faith.”
Mohammed said the constitution of Nigeria guaranteed the right of anyone to practice his/her own faith without molestation, adding that the government had always guarded the constitutional provision jealously.
He said commentators who were not well-versed in the politics and happenings in Nigeria took criminalities and communal clashes as issues of religious persecution.
He said: “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.
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.
According to him, the only known group that targets Christians is the Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP.
He said the Federal Government had mounted large-scale military operations to wipe out the criminals which, according to him, is yielding results.
The minister said: “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 groups,” he said. But as a government, we are after them.”
He said some NGOs were feeding the international community with wrong information to get funds from donors and solicited support from multilateral organisations and foreign countries in tackling the insecurity in Nigeria.