Religious violators’ list: Persecution persists, state your criteria, CAN tells US

The Christian Association of Nigeria on Saturday faulted the decision of the United States of America to remove Nigeria from the religious intolerance countries.

The organisation said it was “at a loss” on statistics used by the US government in arriving at the decision to delist Nigeria from ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ on freedom of religion.

A statement by the President of CAN, Dr Samson Ayokunle, said the American government “did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the countries of ‘Particular Concern’ on religious freedom, and did not seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list.”

The statement was titled, ‘CPC list: We are at a loss on the data the US government used for the delisting of Nigeria  – CAN.’

Ayokunle said, “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.”

The CAN president added that all right-thinking people should ask the US government what has changed on religious freedom and persecution the Christians.

Ayookunle said, “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.”

The cleric said CAN had often stated that government policies should be neutral enough so that no religious group would be seen as being favoured or discriminated against.

He said, “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.

“Once again, we urge 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.”

What I told Secretary of State – CAN representative

Meanwhile, The Vice President of CAN (19 Northern States and Abuja) and its chairman in Kaduna State, Reverend Joseph Hayab, says the body told  the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, that persecution was ongoing in Nigeria.

Hayab, who spoke to our correspondent on the teephone on Saturday, added that the delisting of Nigeria from the religious intolerance countries was suspect because persecution of Christians was still at the highest level.

The CAN VP said he also told Blinken that the government “has not been discussing with Nigerians on the insecurity.”

Hayab said, “The fact of all is that our government has not been discussing with Nigerians about the insecurity, instead, they are even blaming people.

“Then I told him how disappointed the Christians in Nigeria are for the US to remove Nigeria from the religion blacklist.

“I said sir, the situation is simply that you have a patient in the hospital who is still sick but for certain reasons best known to you, you discharged the patient; but the patient is sick.

“ I said what it simply means is go home and die because Nigeria is still having issues of religious persecution and you are saying you are still removing the country from that list?

“You are either you were ill-advised or deliberately you do not care about what happens to us.”

‘FG deceived US’

In the same vein, a Middle Belt peace advocate, Dr Gideon Para-Mallam, said the US was deceived by the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

Para-Mallam, who is the President of The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, in a statement in Abuja,  said, “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.”

SOURCE: THE PUNCH

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