By Mahdi Garba
In response to the US decision to list Nigeria as a country known for the violation of minorities’ religious rights, Russia, Cuba, Tajikistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Nigerian Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegations in a statement issued on Tuesday, 8 December 2020, by its spokesperson, Ferdinand Nwonye.
Similarly, while responding to the US’ claim, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, debunked the claim, saying “Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution.”
The Minister also added that the victims of terrorism in the country are adherents of Islam, Christianity and other religions.
Surprisingly, it is five years after the Nigerian military attacked members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and justice is yet to prevail. No military personnel has been called upon to account for the 705 that are still missing since the violent crackdown on the Islamic Movement leader, Sheikh Zakzaky, and his followers in Zaria between 12 to 14 December 2015.
Though the United States might not be trusted because we have seen it involved in the violation of human rights, especially in its intervention on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, but its designation of Nigeria as a country known for the infringement on the rights of minority religious groups like the Sheikh Zakzaky-led Islamic Movement is a right step in the right direction.
Nigeria’s government’s rebuttal of the allegations was naïve and childish, as they lack facts. For any Nigerian living in the country knows that since 2015, the Nigerian authorities at Federal and States level have serially attacked the members of the Islamic Movement whenever they are out for any procession.
For instance, in 2018, while commemorating the Arba’een of Imam Husain, a Shia Muslim ritual meant to mark the fortieth day of one of Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons in Abuja, more than 47 were killed after security operatives acting on the orders of Nigerian government fired live rounds and teargas on the mourners. As a result of the attack, more than 200 sustained various degrees of gun injuries and 400 detained, including 142 minors.
Another stance that attracted local and international condemnation is the ill-advised and illegal proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria late July 2019.
Famous Nigeria’s human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, described the proscription as immoral and illegal. Similarly, the foremost rights group, Amnesty International joined a host of other individuals and groups in decrying the decision taken by the Nigerian authorities.
“The proscription of IMN is a deliberate attempt to divert attention from crucial issues including; justice for the massacre of over 350 in Zaria in December 2015 as well many other IMN supporters killed by security agencies over the years,” according to Amnesty International while reacting to the proscription of the Movement.
Nigeria’s contempt for court verdicts is glaringly clear. This was manifested in its handling of Sheikh Zakzaky’s continued detention. In December 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawale of the Federal High Court, Abuja ruled that Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife be released, an order that the Muhammadu Buhari-led Nigerian government has incorrigibly refused to obey, despite the deteriorating health of the duo.
The list of similar events that prove the country especially under this administration not sensitive to the plight of religious minorities is inexhaustible. When the Minister of Information and Culture said Nigeria is jealously protecting religious freedom as enshrined in its constitution, he forgot that the families of the more than 1,000 followers of the Islamic Movement that have been killed since 2015 are still nursing mourning their beloved ones.
It is five years after the infamous Zaria Massacre, yet none of the perpetrators has been brought to book, but Nigeria is shamelessly saying it is conscious of religious freedom.
Mahdi Garba writes from Jos and can be reached at Mahdigarba@gmail.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily