John Ameh, Abuja
The Federal Government has denied an allegation that it is persecuting Christians in Nigeria.
The government also denied that Boko Haram was propped up to carry out attacks targeted principally at Christians.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said on Thursday that Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Justice George Oguntade, gave the government’s position in a letter he wrote to the British Parliamentary Group.
It said a group in Nigeria, the Northern Christian Elders Forum, had made the allegation against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, whom the group said was practising “bigotry and alienating Christians.”
The Presidency said letters were written to Rt. Revd. Philip Mounstephen, a former Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and now Head, Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support of Persecuted Christians, and “Baroness Berridge, the Chair of All Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief,” in which the Nigerian Government dismissed the allegations.
“It would be useful for me to engage with this process to ensure that you are thoroughly briefed on the situation in Nigeria,” the Presidency quoted the envoy as writing.
He wrote further, “The safety and security of all Nigerians, whatever their faith, is a fundamental priority of the Buhari government. The government knows that Nigeria can only achieve its potential if there is religious tolerance and cooperation.”
He also mentioned the fact that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo being a Christian, regularly briefed Christian leaders both within and outside Nigeria.
The high commissioner also wrote that Buhari’s cabinet was “balanced,” having Muslims and Christians as members.
The Presidency stated further what Adetola Oguntade wrote, “According to Justice Oguntade, Vice-President Osinbajo has maintained regular contacts with the Christian and Muslim leaders as part of efforts to build and sustain inter-faith dialogue.
“Stressing that the country’s security challenges had no ethnic and religious coloration, the High Commissioner said the farmers/herders’ clashes pre-dated the Buhari administration, noting that such clashes bordered on the desire for pasture by the herders and the desire to protect crops from encroachment and destruction by the farmers.
“Oguntade explained that these clashes had a long history and the Buhari administration is taking a major step to address the root cause of these crises and violent clashes pitting Muslim and Christian farmers alike against the herders.
“According to the High Commissioner, ‘the issue of grazing routes is historically central to these conflicts and the Buhari administration is taking a holistic approach to the matter with a view to ending it once and for all, so that Nigerians can live in peace with one another.
“He, therefore, assured the international community that the Buhari administration would ensure that ‘the competition over scarce land is resolved peacefully for the benefits of all parties.’”
Specifically on Boko Haram, the envoy denied that it was a government-backed group against Christians, saying that the terrorist group was in existence before Buhari assumed office in 2015.
“Boko Haram is a murderous death cult whose savagery has destroyed thousands of lives. The government is totally dedicated to eradicating their stain from our land.
“Since the Buhari administration has been in power, Boko Haram has been significantly degraded – with the support and assistance of the UK Government. We shall not rest until this mission is completed and the people of North-East Nigeria – both Christians and Muslims – can live in peace again,” he added.
The Presidency added that Oguntade enclosed in the letters, Buhari’s opinion article published on November 30, 2018, by London-based Church Times, with the title, “Don’t Politicise Religion in Nigeria.”
It quoted some paragraphs from the article where Buhari wrote that Christians and Muslims could live peacefully in Nigeria.
Buhari had written, “These two great religions (Islam and Christianity) cannot only peacefully coexist but flourish together. But we must first turn to one another in compassion. For as Amos teaches us: ‘Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?’
“We must resist the temptation to retreat into our communities because if we do, our palette of possibilities will remain primary. It is only when we mix them together that we can imagine new and greater possibilities.
“As our constitution spells out, politicising religion should have no place in Nigeria. However, it is all the more reprehensible when in doing so; it feeds fears and plays to man’s baser instincts.
“For it makes us turn away from one another; it makes us retreat into our communities and walk different paths; and it blinds us to each other’s God-given dignity.” (Punch)
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