The Federal Government of Nigeria on Monday condemned the call by five US Republican Senators asking for the redesignation 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.
Responding to the allegation in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in London, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the call was based on a false premise and misunderstanding of what was going on in the country.
The minister, who is in London for engagements with international media as well as some relevant Non-Governmental-Organisations, said;
“You will recall that only a 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 the religion of their choice,
‘We want to say once again that Nigeria does not have a policy that denies people the freedom to practice their religion.
“The country also does not have a policy of violation freedom of religion and it is not true that Nigeria persecutes anybody on account of his or her faith,” he said.
Mohammed noted that the Constitution of Nigeria guarantees the right of anybody to practice his or her own 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 took 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 the distinction of any religion.
“They kidnap for money, they hold people on ransome irrespective of their religion and there are some issues pf communal matters dating back to many years.
“If the 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 targeted Christians was the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP)
He, however, said that the federal government had mounted large-scale military operations to wipe out the criminals and it is yielding results.
“What ISWAP is doing is that because of their dwindling influence they are now attacking Churches and Christians n order to create a crisis between various religious groups.
“But as a government, we are after them,” he said.
The minister said 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 are also collaborating to find a solution to the crisis.
He gave the example of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) which is working to foster unity and better understanding between the Christian and Islamic faiths.
The minister, however, solicited support from multilateral organizations and foreign countries in tackling the challenges of insecurity.