‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja
Daily Courier – The federal government has condemned the call by five United States Republican Senators asking for the re-designation of Nigeria as a ‘country of particular concern’ because of the alleged persecution of Christians.
The senators, who made the call in a letter to the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also alleged violation of freedom of Christians’ rights to practice their religion in Nigeria.
Responding to the allegation in an interview on Monday, 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 truth 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 practise their religion.
“The country also does not have a policy of violation of freedom of religion and it is not true that Nigeria persecutes anybody on account of his or her faith.”
Mohammed noted that the Constitution of Nigeria guarantees the right of anybody to practise his or her faith without molestation and the government has always safeguarded the constitutional provision jealously.
He said most commentators who were not well versed in the politics and happenings in Nigeria take criminalities and communal clashes as issues of religious persecution.
“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,” he said.
According to the minister, the only known group that targets Christians is the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorist group.
He, however, said that the federal government had mounted a large-scale military operations to wipe out the criminals and it was yielding results.
“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.
“But as a government, we are after them,” he said.
The minister alleged that some NGOs were also feeding the international community with wrong information to get funds from donors.
Mohammed reiterated that the two major religions in Nigeria, Islam and Christianity, were also collaborating to find solution to the crisis and bring peace and harmony.
He gave the example of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, which is working to foster unity and better understanding between the Christian and Islamic faiths.
The minister solicited support from multilateral organisations and foreign countries in tackling the challenges if insecurity.