The Federal Government has shrugged off accusations by the United States that it was restricting religious freedom in the country.
“Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution,” Information Minister, Lai Mohammed said in a statement in Abuja.
The denial comes a day after the US placed Nigeria on a blacklist of nations violating religious freedom.
“Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions,” Mohammed said.
Describing United States’ position as “a case of honest disagreement between the two nations on the causes of violence in Nigeria,” the minister said Nigeria would continue to protect religious freedom in line with its constitution.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom, the rare inclusion of a fellow democracy in the US effort to shame nations into action.
“These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act,” Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, wrote on Twitter.
Nigeria maintains a delicate balance between Muslims and Christians, but church groups have reportedly expressed their rising concerns to the US.
US law requires designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Other countries on the blacklist are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Iran, Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Nigeria has come under fire for alleged religious intolerance, discrimination and persecution.
In 2015, the country’s military was accused of killing 350 members of the pro-Iran Shiite group Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), in the northern city of Zaria.
Nigeria is also fighting an Islamist jihadist uprising in the northeast that has claimed 36,000 lives and forced some two million to flee their homes since 2009.
Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Frank Tietie commended the US for blacklisting Nigeria, adding that “religious minorities” have suffered helplessly for many years in the country.
According to him, “the hopeless situation has not been given the kind of attention it requires by the world.
“So coming at this time is a bit late but better late than never,” he said. (AFP)