CAN faults US removal of Nigeria from religious violators’ list

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The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has faulted the yardstick used by the United States government to remove Nigeria from the list of religious intolerance countries.

CAN president, Rev Samson Ayokunle, said in a statement on Saturday that the US government neither contacted it (CAN) before putting Nigeria on its watch list of “countries particular concern” on religious freedom nor seek its opinion before delisting the country.

Ayokunle, in the release entitled ‘CPC list: We are at a loss on the data the US government used for the delisting of Nigeria  – CAN’, said if the US government had contacted the association, it would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria.

“If they had done, we would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria. Whatever may be the data they used, our prayer is that Nigeria would be a country where no religious group is discriminated against or persecuted and that our government would see to it that all religiously biased policies are discontinued with.”

He stated that all right-thinking people should ask the US government what has changed on religious freedom and persecution the Christians.

“This is because all those factors that put Nigeria on CPC list for the first time in 2020 are still there.

“For example, many states in the north are yet to reverse the policy which denies Christians the certificate of occupancy to build churches in their own country.

Equally, some, if not many states in the north do not allow Christian students to study Christian Religious Studies in public schools because it is not in the curriculum. Also, Christian students are still complaining that they are denied admission to government-owned universities in the north to study courses like law and medicine, among others.

“Christian students such as Leah Sharibu and students kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School were left with the kidnappers without any purposeful rescue mission organised for them,” Ayokunle said.

He added that the association had often stated that government policies should be neutral enough so that no religious group would be seen as being favoured or discriminated against.

“For example, for almost a year ago now, some of our churches are finding it difficult with the Ministry of Interior to get new marriage certificate booklet after they had exhausted the ones they were using. Some had applied for new supply as far back as January this year without any response from Ministry of Interior till now. This means that such churches licensed to conduct wedding were denied the right to do so for no cogent reason from the government! It is not only in Nigeria that churches are allowed to conduct wedding once they were licensed to do so. Why are the churches being denied the right to do so now in Nigeria?”

He added, “Up till today, our government is still funding the membership of Nigeria in all the International Islamic organisations like OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and its allies without being part of any international Christian organisation,” he said.

Ayokunle further stated that Christians in Nigeria were still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic sect.

“These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the North down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South. That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today and Nigerians are living witnesses.

“The bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers and kidnapping for ransom. The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the north central part of the country and the North East.

“Though, the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed and kidnapped, this is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money! If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now!”

He urged the US government “to help us by allowing us to know what has changed between the time our country was put in the list of ‘countries of particular concern’ and now.”

Meanwhile, Middle Belt peace advocate and president of The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, Dr Gideon Para-Mallam, said the US was deceived by the regime of the President General Muhammadu Buhari

“It goes without saying that religious persecution in Nigeria today are structural, systemic, deeply entrenched and in addition, very deadly physical attacks on Christians. The culture of denialism when it comes to religious persecution by this present government in Nigeria has blindfolded the US government.

“Therefore, it beats my imagination that with all that is going on in Nigeria regarding the persecution of Christians, Nigeria which became a Country of Particular Concern list as it affects religious freedoms in December 2020, could be so hastily removed in less than one year. Interestingly, Nigeria was removed from the CPC list but Boko and ISWAP were named in the entities of particular concern list.

“This clearly shows that the US Department of State recognises the significant challenge of religious freedom in Nigeria.

“There exists, to me it seems, a disturbing strange relationship between the US government with the Nigerian government. This relationship does not always favour the peace loving people of Nigeria,” Para-Mallam said in a statement issued in Abuja.

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