November 21, 2021

CAN rejects US removal of Nigeria from religious violators’ list

•Queries statistics used

•Action hasty, hypocritical –Para-Mallam

By Sam Eyoboka & Nnamdi Ojiego

The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has rejected the United States of America, USA, government’s removal of Nigeria from its 2021 list of religious violators, querying the statistics used in arriving at the decision.

The US government had, on Friday, removed Nigeria from the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ on the issue of freedom of religion.

In doing so, the administration of President Joe Biden ignored the recommendation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF.

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The removal of Nigeria from the list was contained in a statement by the US Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken. The announcement came one day before Blinken’s arrival in Nigeria for his Africa tour.

According to Blinken, the challenges to religious freedom in the world today are “structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country.”

CAN, in a statement, yesterday, by its National President, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, said Christians in Nigeria were still facing persecutions from ISWAP, Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations.

According to Ayokunle, the Association was at a loss on the data or statistics used by the US government in arriving at delisting Nigeria from the list.

The statement reads: “The US government did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the countries of ‘Particular Concern’ on religious freedom, neither did they seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list. 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.

“Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic group till today as before. 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 Northcentral and the Northeast part of the country. 

“We have been shouting at the top of our voice almost in vain, that government policies should be religiously neutral enough so that no religious group would be seen as being favoured or discriminated against. 

“Up till today, our government is still funding the membership of Nigeria in all the International Islamic organisations like OIC and its allies without being part of any international Christian organization. 

“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.”

Action hasty, hypocritical – Para-Mallam

Meanwhile, the President of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, has described the delisting of Nigeria from the CPC list by the US government as hypocritical and tacit support for the present impunity and lawlessness in the country. 

Para-Mallam, in a chat with Sunday Vanguard, expressed concerns that the action of the US government could result in more killings in Nigeria, stressing that such hypocritical policies are anchored in what he termed ‘softball diplomacy’ which was akin to playing the ostrich.

He said: “The 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 was included in the CPC lists 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 Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP, were named in the entities of Particular Concern List, PCL. This clearly shows that the Department of State recognizes the significant challenge of religious freedom in Nigeria.

“Therefore, to me, removing Nigeria from the CPC list is a hypocritical and tacit way of encouraging the present impunity and lawlessness. I pray this will not result in more killings in Nigeria. Such hypocritical policies are anchored on what I term softball diplomacy which is akin to playing the ostrich’’.