The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Saturday queried the rationale used by the US government in arriving at delisting Nigeria from the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC) on the issue of freedom of religion.
CAN expressed displeasure that the US government did not communicate with the religious body when they were listing Nigeria among the CPC countries on religious freedom, nor did they seek their opinion before removing Nigeria from the list.
The leadership of CAN said they would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria, if the US government had contacted them.
President of CAN, Rev. Samson Ayokunle said: “Whatever may be the data they used, our prayer is that Nigeria would be a country where no religious group is discriminated against or persecuted and that our government would see to it that all religiously biased policies are discontinued with.”
Ayokunle emphasized that Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from ISWAP and the Boko Haram Islamic group.
He said: “These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the North down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South. That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today and Nigerians are living witnesses.
“The bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to ferociously attack churches, killing worshippers and kidnapping for ransom. The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the Northcentral part of the country and the Northeast.
“Though, the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed and kidnapped, this is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money! If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
He said CAN has been shouting at the top of its voice that government policies should be religiously neutral enough so that no religious group would be seen as being favored or discriminated against.
Ayokunle who issued a statement while reacting to the development said: “For example, for almost a year now, some of our churches have been finding it difficult with the Ministry of Interior to get new marriage certificate booklets after they had exhausted the ones they were using. Some had applied for new supply as far back as January this year without any response from the Ministry of Interior till now.
“This means that such churches licensed to conduct weddings were denied the right to do so for no cogent reason from the government! It is not only in Nigeria that churches are allowed to conduct weddings once they are licensed to do so. Why are the churches being denied the right to do so now in Nigeria? If there is nothing to hide by the government and it is not subtle religious discrimination, why didn’t the ministry in a written form or verbally explain to the churches that needed a new marriage certificate booklet why the supply is delayed?
“We are seizing this opportunity to appeal to the Ministry of Interior to put its acts together and allow the licensed churches to collect the marriage certificate booklets from the local government registries nearest to them without further delay and cost.”
Ayokunle said every right-thinking person will continue to ask the US government to let the world know what has changed on the issue of religious freedom and the persecution Christians are facing between the time they placed the country on the list of CPC and now.