The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has reacted to a letter by five United States Senators calling for the re-designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) over alleged persecution of Christians in the country, by blaming the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) for attacks on Christians and churches in Nigeria.
The five US Republican Senators, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James M. Inhofe and Tom Cotton, had, in a joint letter dated June 29 and addressed to the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, noted that “recent acts of violence targeting Nigerian Christians” and the “deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country” as reasons the country should be relisted on the CPC a few months after it was removed from the list.
The letter had also alleged that there was a violation of freedom of Nigerian Christians’ rights to practise their religion, citing the recent killing of a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State, Deborah Yakubu by Muslim students over an alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.
But while responding to the allegations in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in London on Monday, Mohammed disagreed with the US Senators, saying their call for a re-designation of Nigeria on the CPC list was “based on false premise and misunderstanding of what was going on in the country.”
The Minister, while insisting that Nigeria does not have a policy that denies people of their freedom of religious worship, put the blame for attacks on Christians on the ISWAP terrorists whom he said are trying to cause a division between Nigerian Christians and Muslims.
“We want to say once again that Nigeria does not have a policy that denies people the freedom to practise their religion.
“The country also does not have a policy of violation of freedom of religion and it is not true that Nigeria persecutes anybody on account of his or her faith.”
The Minister also debunked insinuations that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria.
“Nobody in Nigeria is being persecuted, but we have issues of criminality going on and the criminals really do not make distinction of any religion.
“The ISWAP terrorists group is responsible for the attacks on Christians and churches in Nigeria.
“They kidnap for money, they hold people for ransom irrespective of their religion and there are some issues of communal matters dating back to many years.
“What ISWAP is doing is that because of their dwindling influence, they are now attacking churches and Christians in order to create crisis between various religious groups.
“But as a government, we are after them. If statistics is to be taken, I can say confidently that as many Muslims as Christians have been victims of these criminals,” the Minister promised.