Nigeria reacts to US blacklist

THE Nigerian government has expressed its ‘surprise’ at the decision by the US to place the country on its religious freedom blacklist.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday 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.

The State Department did not immediately elaborate on why it designated Nigeria but, in its annual report 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 was banned last year on terrorism allegations.

The Nigerian army killed some 350 Shiites, many of them gunned down or burned alive, in a 2015 confrontation, according to rights groups.

But the Federal Government said it ‘received the news with surprise, that a secular country under a democratic government would be so designated.’ A statement released by the foreign ministry late Tuesday said, ‘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.’

The statement added: ‘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 Nigerian Government remains committed to ensuring the respect and protection of all citizens’ right to religious freedom and promotion of religious tolerance and harmony.

‘The Ministry wishes to assure that the Nigerian Government will engage the US Government to express its displeasure and request that Nigeria be removed from the list.’

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