From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has registered its discontent with the decision of the United States Government to delist Nigeria on the list of countries of particular concern on the issue of freedom of religion.
The CAN called out the decision and demanded to be shown the criteria, data or statistics used by the US government to pass the judgement on religious freedom in Nigeria.
It demanded a reversal of the decision, insisting that the case of religious discrimination and persecution has worsened compared to when the decision to place Nigeria on that list was taken.
CAN President Dr Samson Ayokunle Olasupo, in a statement released in Abuja on Saturday, referred the US government to increasing attacks on Christians and their worship centres, as well as other religious persecution and discrimination across northern states.
‘For example, many states in the north are yet to reverse the policy which denies Christians the Certificate of Occupancy to build churches. Many northern states do not allow Christian students to study Christian Religious Studies in public schools because it is not made available in their curriculum,’ Dr Olasupo stated.
‘In a similar vein, Christian students had and are still complaining that they are being denied admission opportunities to government-owned universities in the north to study courses like Law and Medicine, among others.
‘Christian students such as Leah Sharibu and students kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School were left with the kidnappers without any purposeful rescue mission organised for them. Their relatives and churches are being forced to pay ransoms worth millions of Naira to secure their people or children.
‘Sadly, the Federal Government has refused to see banditry as terrorism and has therefore refused to label them as terrorists. ISWAP and other Islamic terrorists that surrendered or were captured are not allowed to face the wrath of the law but are rather being slated for a programme of de-radicalization or rehabilitation. These are people who had sent many people to early graves. Is this action of government fair to the people they killed and those who are traumatized and put in sadness over property or relatives they killed? Why are armed robbers not de-radicalized? What becomes of our criminal justice system if this kind of anomaly is allowed to stay?
‘We are completely at loss on the data or statistics used by the US government in arriving at this decision. The US government did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the countries of ‘Particular Concern’ on religious freedom, neither did they seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list. If they had done, we would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria.
‘Whatever may be the data they used, our prayer is that Nigeria will be a country where no religious group is discriminated against or persecuted and that our government would see to it that all religiously biased policies are discontinued.
‘But until then, we must know that Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic Group till today as before. These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the north down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South. That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today and Nigerians are living witnesses.
“Bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers and kidnapping for ransom. The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the northcentral part of the country and the northeast.
‘Though the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed and kidnapped. This is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money. If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now.’
The CAN president revisited the case of churches not being able to get a marriage certificate booklet from the Federal Ministry of Interior after they had exhausted the ones they were using. ‘Some had applied for new supplies as far back as January this year without any response from the Ministry of Interior till now,’ he said.
‘This means that such churches licensed to conduct weddings are denied the right to do so for no cogent reason from the government. It’s not only in Nigeria that churches are allowed to conduct weddings once they are licensed to do so.
He appealed to the Ministry of Interior to put its acts together and allow the licensed churches to collect the marriage certificate booklets from the local government registries nearest to them without further delay and cost.