The Federal Government has reacted to the inclusion of Nigeria in the list of countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom”.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said “failed politicians” who wanted to oust President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 general elections wereto blame for orchestrating a negative religious narrative in the country.
The U.S. government on Friday announced that the Nigerian government has been added to a “Special Watch List (SWL)” of those that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom. U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who made the announcement said other additions to the list were Cuba, Nicaragua and Sudan.
His words: “On December 18, 2019, the Department of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom.
“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”.
The U.S. 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.
But in a statement signed on Sunday by his media aide, Segun Adeyemi, Mohammed said Nigeria rejects the US decision, maintaining that the federal government blames “failed 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 who stated that “the good people of Nigeria enjoy unfettered freedom to practice their religion”, said “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.”
The Minister also accused the political opposition in the country of deriving political capital from the various security challenges in the country
He 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,” he said.
According Alhaji Mohammed, “the government has succeeded in curbing the farmers-herders clashes through the implementation of proactive and multi-dimensional strategy, which is yielding remarkable results”
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.