The Federal Government has rejected the US designation of Nigeria as a country that engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom, saying the “iniquitous” tag stems from an orchestrated narrative long discredited.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement yesterday, said the good people of Nigeria enjoyed unfettered freedom to practise their religion, and blamed failed politicians and disgruntled elements, including “supposedly-respected leaders” for latching on to religion as their trump card, especially in the runup to the last general elections to oust the Buhari Administration.
On the El-Zakzaky issue, which was cited in the report by the US government, the minister described it as a “purely a criminal matter” being handled by a court of competent jurisdiction.
According to him, while the government welcomes constructive criticism from any quarter, it rejects any attempt to sow the seed of mistrust among the various religious groups in the country.
He said it was unfortunate that the US fell for the antics of the discontented and the unpatriotic few “who will not hesitate to hang Nigeria out to dry on the altar of their inordinate ambition and their sheer animosity towards the administration.”
The Nigerian government is acutely aware of how the political opposition, in particular, had spared no resources in deriving political capital from the various security challenges in the country
‘‘The deliberate effort to give religious coloration to the farmers-herders clashes and the Boko Haram insurgency, in particular, has undoubtedly helped to mislead the US into concluding that the government is doing little or nothing to guarantee religious freedom in the country.
‘‘But, as we have always said, the farmers-herders clashes have nothing to do with religion but everything to do with environmental and socio-economic realities. The religious tag given to the clashes has no basis in fact, but is very convenient for those who will very easily give the dog a bad name just to hang it. On its part, the Boko Haram terrorists are extreme fanatics who do not subscribe to the tenets of any religion, in spite of their pretence to Islamic adherence,’’ he said.