The federal government has rejected the new levels of misrepresentation in the United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom Report on Nigeria.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, made this position known in a statement in Abuja on Friday.
The report released by the UK based Group on International Religious Freedom Report on Nigeria on June 15, had alleged that the Nigerian government was allowing armed Islamist groups to kill, maim and displace Christians, through a systematic cleansing.
The report, titled “Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?”, painted a picture of an ongoing religious/ethnic cleansing ongoing in Nigeria, with government doing almost nothing to end the reign of terror, which it claimed was particularly targeted at northern Christians.
“Attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians.”
The presidential aide, however, condemned the report, saying:
“Although it is difficult reading, the statement also acknowledges the importance of accurate, unbiased, depoliticised and truthful information when it comes to understanding the realities and addressing the challenges for those of faith in Nigeria.
“In this regard when uncritical attention is afforded to critics with dubious intentions, it only becomes harder for both the government and people of Nigeria to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve our differences, and uphold what is enshrined in our Constitution and laws: that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’’
Mr Shehu said it is clear for all to see that there have, for generations in Nigeria, been tensions between two major religions, Christianity and Islam – and between herders and farmers.
He said the conflict between herders and farmers was informed by the struggle for access to ever-decreasing arable and farmland due to a rapidly rising population, temperatures and desertification through global warming.
“Exacerbating those tensions, our nation has also been in recent times and focused within the northern states – subject to vicious and criminal attacks by the terror group Boko Haram.
“In concert with our American and British allies, Nigeria’s military have pushed back the terrorists and largely reduced their capacity over the last five years compared to the previous decade,’’ he maintained.
He maintained that the Boko Haram sect had been targeting Christians and Churches specifically because they know it drives forward religious and land tensions already existent in the country, saying the sect also attacked mosques and Muslims in the country.
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He said: “In the months and years ahead, our President who is Muslim and our Vice President who is an evangelical Christian pastor are irrevocably committed to addressing these multiple and long-term challenges for today’s and future generations. These include:
– Continuing and increasing Nigeria’s efforts alongside our allies to fully defeat and finally finish Boko Haram, in order to bring security to the north of the country.
– Continuing to seek, negotiate for, and secure the return of all those held hostage and in captivity by the terrorists, regardless of the religious faith or belief.
– Uniting our nation through dialogue organised around respect for difference in religion. Such a programme is already underway under the leadership of the Vice President, Pastor Yemi Osinbajo.
– Addressing, through Joint Federal and State Governments programmes, access to arable farmland – with land mandated both for farmers and herders. The federal government will issue detailed measures regarding this plan and its rollout in the coming weeks
– Countering fake news – particularly on social and digital media – by working with the non-partisan stakeholder community, the National Broadcasting Commission and social media platforms themselves, to address the proliferation of false and inflammatory commentary.’’
The presidential aide assured that the federal government would at all times work with those – both within and without Nigeria – with a concern for the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
In this regard, he said, the Nigerian government looked forward to welcoming members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to Nigeria to “see for themselves the work that is going on to promote these fundamental rights of our citizens.’’