Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has responded to United States of America designating Nigeria as “a country of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom and the freedom of thought and conscience, saying his conscious is clear.
On December 20, the United States government issued a statement, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, designating Nigeria “a country of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom and the freedom of thought and conscience, declaring that “the protection of religious freedom is a top Trump Administration foreign policy priority.”
According to a statement by Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari described the designation as unfair, urging the US to ensure that its sources of information on Nigeria cut across all sectors as some people might provide misleading and manipulative narratives for self-serving purposes, ignoring the larger picture of a united country.
Buhari was speaking when he received Letters of Credence of United States of America Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Mary Beth Leonard, in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said the recent listing of Nigeria for human rights concerns created an impression that some people were being unfairly treated or marginalized in the country.
“I know that those with access have created an impression of being marginalized.
“I sit here with a clear conscience. I took an oath and I am honouring the office,” he said.
President Buhari said he took some time to explain the situation in the country when he met with President Donald Trump in Washington DC as the American President expressed concern with reports of attacks on segments of the society.
“It is not an easy task to work for the unity of the country, and I am doing my best. During your stay in the country I am asking you to ensure that your sources of strategic information cut across,” he added.
The president urged the envoy to use the opportunity of her posting to Nigeria, with her experience, knowledge and energy to get the facts on the country.
In her remarks, the United States Ambassador said Nigeria was listed on a watch list to deepen conversation on the humanitarian situation in the country, accepting that some people could “flare the flames and crystalize issues’’ that could affect peaceful-coexistence.
“There are people who make things less attractive than they seem,’’ she said, noting that the report will deepen conversation of the situation in the country, especially with religious leaders and mediators.
“I want to assure that the United States recognizes and celebrates the integration in Nigeria.”
She said the United States will always side with transparent processes.
The ambassador said Nigerians and America have a lot in common in terms of “being big among neighbours, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial”.
Leonard assured President Buhari of support from the United States, especially on the humanitarian challenges, while appreciating the willingness to always share useful information and intelligence with her country.
“I feel it’s a privilege and great honour to be here; coming to see the giant of Africa. I have worked for 30 decades before coming to Nigeria. We will do a lot together for peace, security and delivering humanitarian assistance,’’ she added.
President Buhari also received Letters of Credence from the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Nigeria, Ahamed Lebbe Sabarullah Khan.
The president appreciated the country for supporting Nigeria to provide the President of the United Nations General Assembly.
In his remarks, the High Commissioner said:
“Our countries face similar challenges and we will support each other.’’
He said Sri Lanka will also strengthen bilateral relations with Nigeria on trade and investments.