The Federal Government, yesterday, rejected the United States’ designation of Nigeria as a nation that tolerates serious violations of religious freedom.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement by his Special Assistant, Segun Adeyemi, said the iniquitous tag stemmed from an orchestrated narrative that has long been discredited.
Recall that the United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, in a statement released on Friday titled ‘United States Takes Action Against Violators of Religious Freedom,’ said “the Department renewed the placement of Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom,” and added Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan to this list.”
Pompeo said in the statement that “the protection of religious freedom is a top Trump Administration foreign policy priority,” adding that “persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief exists in every region of the world.”
He further said “the United States continues to work diligently to promote religious freedom and combat abuses,” stating that “these recent designations continue that important work.”
In the statement, the United States also designated 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.
Mohammed however said the good people of Nigeria enjoyed unfettered freedom to practise their religion.
He blamed 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.
The minister further said it was regrettable 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.”
Mohammed added the federal government was 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.
Mohammed 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. 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.”
The minister also said it was heart-warming that the government succeeded in curbing the farmers-herders clashes through the implementation of proactive and multi-dimensional strategy, which he said, is yielding remarkable results, just as it has largely defeated the Boko Haram menace.
“On the El-Zakzaky issue, which was referred to in the report by the US government, he described it is purely a 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,” the statement read.