President Donald John Trump of the United states of America through his secretary of state Mr. Mike Pompeo has just announced for the second time that the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is intolerant of religious plurality when the USA added Nigeria to religious freedom blacklist.
The United States on Monday placed Nigeria for the second time 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 US ally as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, alongside nations that include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo did not elaborate on the reasons for including Nigeria, which has a delicate balance between Muslims and Christians.
But US law requires such designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Pompeo notably did not include India, which has a growing relationship with Washington, and was infuriated by a recommendation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to include the secular but Hindu-majority nation over what it called a sharp downward turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Other nations on the blacklist are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Pompeo removed from a second-tier watchlist both Uzbekistan and Sudan, whose relations with the United States have rapidly warmed after the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir and its recent agreement to recognize Israel.
On Nigeria, an annual State Department report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.
It pointed to the mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shiite Muslim group that has been at loggerheads with the government for decades and was banned by a court.
The group has taken inspiration from Iran, ordinarily a major target of President Donald Trump’s administration.
However, Nigeria has been widely criticized for its treatment of the movement, including in a 2015 clash in which hundreds were said to have died.
The State Department report highlighted the arrests of Muslims for eating in public in Kano state during Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight hours.
It also took note of the approval of a bill in Kaduna state to regulate religious preaching.
While the designations relate to government actions, the State Department has already listed Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
The international media notes that militants began an insurgency in 2009 in north-eastern Nigeria that has since spread to neighbouring countries, killing more than 36,000 people and forcing three million to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Under US law, nations on the blacklist must make improvements or face sanctions including losses of US government assistance, although the administration can waive actions.
To begin with, we need to get a clear understanding of the import of this classification which has for the second year running being imposed in compliance with an extant executive order on advancing international religious freedom.
Specifically, the section 4 of this executive order made on June 2, 2020 stressed that it is being made to mainstream International Religious Freedom into the United States diplomacy. Other components are:
(a) The Secretary shall direct Chiefs of Mission in countries of particular concern, countries on the Special Watch List, countries in which there are entities of particular concern, and any other countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom as noted in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom required by section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-292), as amended (the “Act”), to develop comprehensive action plans to inform and support the efforts of the United States to advance international religious freedom and to encourage the host governments to make progress in eliminating violations of religious freedom.
(b) In meetings with their counterparts in foreign governments, the heads of agencies shall, when appropriate and in coordination with the Secretary, raise concerns about international religious freedom and cases that involve individuals imprisoned because of their religion.
(c) The Secretary shall advocate for United States international religious freedom policy in both bilateral and multilateral fora, when appropriate, and shall direct the Administrator of USAID to do the same.
Besides, to make sure that the classification on nations in the blacklist makes some sense, the government of the United States of America intends to use economic sanctions against political rulers of countries designated as being antagonistic to religious plurality. Section 6 which is the economic tool component of this executive order on advancing international religious freedoms specifies that:
(a) The Secretary and the Secretary of the Treasury shall, in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and through the process described in National Security Presidential Memorandum-4 of April 4, 2017 (Organization of the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, and Subcommittees), develop recommendations to prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools to advance international religious freedom in countries of particular concern, countries on the Special Watch List, countries in which there are entities of particular concern, and any other countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom as noted in the report required by section 102(b) of the Act. These economic tools may include, as appropriate and to the extent permitted by law, increasing religious freedom programming, realigning foreign assistance to better reflect country circumstances, or restricting the issuance of visas under section 604(a) of the Act.
(b) The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may consider imposing sanctions under Executive Order 13818 of December 20, 2017 (Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption), which, among other things, implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Public Law 114-328).
Sec. 7. Definitions. For purposes of this order:
(a) “Country of particular concern” is defined as provided in section 402(b)(1)(A) of the Act;
(b) “Entity of particular concern” is defined as provided in section 301 of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (Public Law 114-281);
(c) “Special Watch List” is defined as provided in sections 3(15) and 402(b)(1)(A)(iii) of the Act; and
(d) “Violations of religious freedom” is defined as provided in section 3(16) of the Act.
Sec. 8. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
The Buhari’s Central Government strongly disagrees with the blacklist just as the Buhari’s government.
The Federal Government has reacted to the designation of Nigeria as a country of concern on religious freedom by the United States Government.
The government said that Nigeria will vigorously engage the US government to remove its name from its blacklist of countries over concern on religious freedom.
The government’s reaction is contained in a press statement which was issued by the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, and signed by the ministry’s spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye.
While expressing its displeasure to the US government on this development, the Nigerian government said that it remained committed to ensuring respect and protection of all citizens’ rights to religious freedom and promotion of religious tolerance and harmony.
The statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry reads, “The attention of the ministry has been drawn to an announcement made by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, stating that the government of the United States of America has designated Nigeria as a ‘country of concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998’.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria received the news with surprise, that a secular country under a democratic government will be so designated. Although the Nigerian state is multi-religious and multi-ethnic, the Nigerian constitution expressly states that the government shall not adopt any religion as state religion.
“Furthermore, section 38 of the constitution guarantees that every Nigerian citizen is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including freedom to change his/her religion or belief. And freedom to manifest and propagate his/her religion or belief. Religious liberty in Nigeria has never been in question, therefore any claim contrary to that is completely false and untrue.
“The ministry wishes to assure that the Nigerian government will engage the U.S government to express its displeasure and request that Nigeria be removed from the list.”
The truth however is that for the last five or six years, many Christian communities in some Northern states have been attacked systematically by the marauding armed Fulani herdsmen.
Many Christians have also lost their lives just as over 100 Christian communities in Southern Kaduna have been taken over by the advancing armed Fulani herdsmen.
Both the Federal and Kaduna State governments actively supports these attacks in Southern Kaduna because for the last four years, not one attacker has been prosecuted by either Kaduna state governor or the Federal Attorney General Mr. Abubakar Malami.
Ironically the three top government officials that need to act to provide succour to these victims of deprivation of homelands and lives are Fulani and they are President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Attorney General Abubakar Malami and Governor Nasir El Rufai.
The HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) wrote to the Federal Attorney General to demand that these armed Fulani herdsmen accused of attacking Christian Communities in Southern Kaduna, Benue State should be prosecuted. The Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice replied us and categorically stated that these killers can not be prosecuted because he has no case files on the alleged crimes. In Benue state, Christian communities were targeted and Catholic priests killed but for five years the attackers have so far not been arrested, prosecuted or punished.
In Kano state, even when section 10 of the Constitution categorically prohibits the elevation of any religion as state religion, the state government has clearly declared Islam as state religion. Christians are deprived of their fundamental rights as citizens because they cannot engage in such economic activities as selling beer and running other social businesses.
In most states in the North, Christians cannot obtain licenses to build places of Worship but in the South there is no restrictions on the building of Mosques.
The Central government under President Buhari has also cornered most of the strategic positions and posted Moslem and Northerners as against the Federal character principles.
Under this current government of Muhammadu Buhari, you need to be a Moslem of Hausa/Fulani or Kanuri lineage to get top security appointments. in the area of employments at the Federal levels, there are no level playing fields under the current government. So how is anybody saying that the current Central government does not qualify to be black listed when the government refused to rescue a school girl because she is a Christian from Yobe state but others who are moslems were released when two years ago they were violently abducted by Islamic terrorists in the North East state of Yobe? Christian Pastors are kidnapped and killed, Churches are burnt, but the Federal administration which encourages discrimination against Christians is doing nothing. Stiff sanctions against the person of the President Muhammadu Buhari and his entire cabinet should be imposed.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com, email@example.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.