By Olawale Ajimotokan
Nigeria has rejected a report by the United States alleging it was engaging in systematic and egregious religious freedom violations.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described the allegation as a case of honest disagreement between the two nations on the causes of violence in Nigeria.
”Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution. Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions,” the Minister said.
He said Nigeria jealously protects religious freedom as enshrined in the country’s constitution and takes seriously any infringements in this regard.
It would be recalled that the US had on Monday placed Nigeria on a religious freedom blacklist, paving the way for potential sanctions if it does not improve its record.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the U.S. ally — for the first time — as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, alongside nations that include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The US Secretary of State did not give reasons for including Nigeria, but US law requires such designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”.
Other nations on the blacklist are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The US State Department in its annual report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.
The allegation against Nigeria was that it engaged in mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shi’ite Muslim group, and for disregarding several several court orders asking it to release the leader of the sect Sheikh Ibrahim El Zak Zaky who has been in detention since 2015 after a clash between the military and members of the sect in Zaria, Kaduna State.