NIGERIA’S information minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed has hit back at US claims that Nigeria is a hotbed of religious intolerance saying Washington’s categorisation of the country as such was nothing more than a disagreement on the causes of recent violence.
Yesterday, the US added Nigeria to a blacklist of countries that stifle religious freedom in response to ongoing attacks on churches and mosques by armed Fulani herdsmen. This is the first time Nigeria is being added to the list which paves way for potential sanctions if the country does not improve its record.
Reacting to development, however, Alhaji Mohammed described the allegation as a case of an honest disagreement between the two nations on the causes of violence in Nigeria. He pointed out that Nigeria jealously protects religious freedom as enshrined in the country’s constitution and takes seriously any infringements in this regard.
Alhaji Mohamed said: “Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution. Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions.”
US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had described Nigeria, as a country of particular concern for religious freedom. Other nations in the list include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Pompeo tweeted: “Today, the US designates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as countries of concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for engaging systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations. America is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom.
“No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs. These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act.”
Although the US did not state why Nigeria was blacklisted, Mike Pompeo said his country will continue to act when religious freedom is attacked. It is not clear how the Nigerian government intends to get the classification revoked or avoid any potential sanctions that may follow.