CAN, HURIWA kick against removal of Nigeria from religious violators’ list

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The Christian Association Of Nigeria (CAN) has kicked against the removal of Nigeria from the list of religious violators.

The Joe Biden administration through US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on Wednesday delisted Nigeria from states violating religious freedom.

The action applauded by agents of the Nigerian government has been faulted by CAN President, Samson Ayokunle, as well as the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) who described it as a rude shock.

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Mr Ayokunle in a statement on Saturday said nothing has changed to justify the decision of the foreign country and asked for the statistics that led to the decision.

“Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic Group till today as before,” the official of the religious body said. “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.”

He said while the attacks from Islamic extremists have escalated to include non-Christians, worshippers and places of worship were still being attacked by the terrorists.

“Up till today, our government is still funding the membership of Nigeria in all the international Islamic organisations like Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) 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,” the group demanded.

In a letter to the U.S administration, HURIWA who described it as a rude shock, said the decision is contradictory of to the US government’s declaration of Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) as entities of particular concern.

“The curious decision of the US government to take Nigeria off the list of countries violating religious freedom came to the Christian community in our country as a rude shock,” the epistle addressed to Mr Blinken reads. “HURIWA, with a great sense of responsibility and burden, wishes to draw the attention of the US government to the fact that the situation regarding religious freedom is not in any way better than what obtains in any of the listed countries to warrant removing Nigeria from the list.

“The United States as the bastion of democracy, a beacon of human rights and the last hope of weak nations under oppressive regimes cannot afford to relinquish the noble role of keeping such countries safe and fairly free from religious intolerance. The consequences of the US relinquishing the God-ordained role can only be imagined.

“For Nigeria particularly, striking off the country from the list of violators of religious freedom and rights when the country should move up the ladder carries with it very grave consequences. Before reminding the US government of what awaits Christians in Nigeria with this clean bill given Nigeria on violation of religious rights, permits HURIWA to address two crucial issues.

“First is the rehash of the reasons the US developed the list of such dangerous nations. The Secretary of State has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act and any country to be dropped must also merit it.

“HURIWA finds it rather contradictory that the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken would declare: “I am designating al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.

“Yet, the Secretary of State left Nigeria out of the watch list, a nation hosting Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, both terrorist organizations driven by religious ideologies and Islamic expansionism. Essentially, there is a need to keep a tab on such nations and removing any such as Nigeria from the watch list will automatically take such a country off the radar and the atrocities committed by them regarding religion will generally go unnoticed by the international community.

“Second is to draw the attention of the US government particularly to the true state of religious violation in Nigeria as at today. A chronicle of some of the remarkable violations, which will be undertaken hereunder, may help the US government to regain proper perspective.

“Since the current government in Nigeria came to power in 2015, religious violence has gained impetus and Christians in Nigeria thus became endangered species as a consequence.

“Ceaseless killing of Christians in Nigeria since June 2015 and burning or destruction of their churches and other worship centers have followed incessant attacks against them by Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and a branch of Boko Haram, called ‘Bandits/Highway Kidnappers’ engage in roadway abductions and armed robberies and house to house lootings, all for the purpose of radical propagation of Islam and raising of ‘blood funds’ for themselves and for the advancement of their terror objectives, which simply is Islamic expansionism.

“The number of Northern Nigerian Christians forced to flee their ancestral homes, farmlands and sacred places of worship in order to escape being murdered or raped has sharply risen from “over 1.3 million in 2014” to between 4 million and 5 million (see Open Doors Report 2015). The affected population has fled the countryside or relocated to less risky capital cities in Northern Nigeria or cities and communities in the Southeast, South, and Southwest parts of the country. They have become ‘urban refugees’ Some are even driven into neighbouring countries or live in IDP camps within Nigeria.

“The present-day government of Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari is known to have sympathy for religious fundamentalism and statements which reflect this inclination abound. The APC-led Federal government has been justifiably accused of treating religion-driven Boko Haram terrorism with Kids grove.

“It is also a known fact that Christians and Christian communities have been the targets of Boko Haram terrorism. Many of these Christian communities in Northern Nigeria have been wiped out and livelihoods of survivors destroyed and millions rendered internally displaced persons.

“Since Boko Haram is driven by Islamic fundamentalism and targets mainly Christians, taking Nigeria off the list of religious intolerant countries presupposes that the sect has been defeated. The fact is: Boko Haram terrorism has gained fresh momentum and only recently joined forces with ISIS, to become far more potent and dangerous with many more Christians being daily killed.

“Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that a panel of United States policymakers uncovered how Boko Haram terrorists operating in the North-East have been collaborating with armed bandits terrorising communities across the North-West to collect ransom from the Buhari administration and civilian victims. The American newspaper reported that the U.S. officials have been monitoring bandit commanders and their possible coordination with Boko Haram insurgents.

“This mutation of terrorism has been expanding its control and atrocities in the North West and in Middle Belt parts of Nigeria. The terror group is branded as ‘bandits’ but they are indeed terrorists and reports have it that they are working with Boko Haram terrorists and have the capacity to recently dawn a military jet.

“The House of Representatives Committee on Army (Nigeria) recently called on President Buhari to declare bandits terrorists to enable the Nigerian Armed Forces to prosecute the war against them. The Chairman of the committee, Abdulrazak Namdas, made the call when the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Farouk Yahaya, appeared before the committee to defend the budget proposed for 2022 in Abuja on Friday, November 6.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria has refused to officially designate the bandits a terrorist organization but was quick to designate an unarmed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist organization.

“It is equally important to note that the kidnapping activities of these bandits, just like Boko Haram terrorism, mainly target Christians.

“A cursory look at the schools and the communities that Boko Haram and the bandits have raided and carried out kidnapping are mainly Christian schools and Christian communities.

“The jihadists and other criminal gangs have been given free rein in Nigeria and now kidnap schoolchildren at will. Heavily armed criminal gangs in north-west and central Nigeria often attack villages to loot, steal cattle and abduct people for ransom, but since the start of the year, they have increasingly targeted Christian schools and colleges.

“Amnesty International recently listed several attacks carried out by bandits and Boko Haram terrorists with school children abducted from schools in the North West and North East.”

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