Dec 27, 2019
The Nasrul-Lahi-l-Fatih Society NASFAT has rejected the US inclusion of Nigeria on the Special Watch List of Countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom” and has rather chosen to draw the attention of the US Government to the authentic narrative of good people of Nigeria who have been enjoying religious freedom without hindrance, as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria even as at the time of this press statement.
In support of its argument, NASFAT cited its recently held 5th Biennial Conference with the theme Peaceful Coexistence: Panacea for Unity, Growth and Development. The event hosted a Catholic Priest as one of the panelists. Another highlight of the conference was a walk for peace and harmony with other religious faithful.
It recalled that it had earlier in the beginning of this decade organized an international conference on peaceful co-existence amongst tribes and religions in Nigeria at Abuja to which the USA collaborated.
It added that while not presenting itself as the spokesperson of the Government of Nigeria, it is common knowledge that the “Boko Haram” phenomenon is a special case that defies logical or religious explanations. The unfortunate kidnappings, destructions and killings by the group cannot be justified under Islamic Shari’a or by the teachings of the noble Qur’an. The farmers/herder clashes referred to in the US report are unfortunate events occasioned by climate change, rapid urbanization, obsolete agricultural practices underpinned by inadequate land and water resources; but given ethnic and religious colouration by some for selfish gain. The violence is exacerbated by the proliferation of and easy access to arms, polarizing media coverage including fake news on social media, high rates of unemployment, drug use, poverty and inadequate policing and security infrastructure to prevent, detect, address and curb violent crimes.
Nigeria is a multi-religious state where citizens practice their religion without any form of molestation or persecution. Unlike in other climes where government is using sophisticated surveillance technology to monitor ethnic and religious minorities, Nigerians have unfettered freedom to espouse their beliefs and practice their religious activities while sometimes unwittingly infringing on the right of others by blocking roads and major highways during religious service, noisy preaching in the streets before dawn and early in the morning in residential neighborhoods, and also conducting vigil and other religious activities in the dead of night in residential areas. We have witnessed many examples of religious organisations having significant business interests, including private jet services, without paying requisite levies and taxes to government authorities; and educational institutions, owned by religious bodies, limiting and forcing their students to the practice of only one faith while on campus.
It is the tolerance spirit exhibited and observed by the people of the different faiths that has kept all Nigerians to move ahead despite the inconveniences arising from the way we practice our different faiths and the egregious behavior of some religious leaders and institutions who chose to blatantly violate the laws of the land and encroach on the peace of their neighbors.
NASFAT reiterates that Nigeria is not a secular state but rather a multi-religious country. Section 10 of our constitution rules out a state of theocracy, which is a Government by an established religion, such that the Government of the Federation or of a State cannot adopt any religion as State Religion, be it Christianity or Islam. Section 38 provides to the effect that every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, including the freedom to change his religion or beliefs while Section 15 (2) provides that national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the ground of Religion shall be prohibited. Our constitution greatly encourages and guarantees freedom of religion and religious practices while maintaining an equilibrium amongst the different religions in the country.
NASFAT therefore admonishes the USCIRF and the US Government not to rely solely on the narratives gathered from the social media and partisan entities in reaching a conclusion on Nigeria while on the other hand it charges the Nigerian government to conduct its operations transparently based on the rule of law and within the ambit of the Nigerian constitution. It should continue its policy of non- discrimination against groups or religions in Nigeria and continue to be fair to all irrespective of their religious or ethnic background.
With regards to the advice from the US Government, NASFAT urges the Nigerian government to address its response to it with facts, emphasize the sovereignty of Nigeria and the supremacy of our constitution including Shari’a legislation, while remaining open to technical, operational, humanitarian and financial assistance from friendly nations to support our war against hate speech, sectarian violence, insurgency and terrorism of all forms.