- Category: Latest
- Published on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 17:23
- Written by THISDAY
The United States has fingered some state governments and politicians as being behind the spate of communal and sectarian violence rocking Nigeria. It identified the main targets of such violence to include political and ethnic rivals, businesses, homes, churches, mosques and rural villages.
It said in the latest International Religious Freedom Report for 2011, released on Monday that there were reports of abuses of religious freedom by some state officials and politicians.
The Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, submitted a report to the US Congress on the matter.
The report is used by many US government agencies and offices to shape policy; conduct diplomacy; and inform assistance, training, and other resource allocations.
The latest report, which also indicted the Federal Government for not acting swiftly or effectively to quell communal violence nor investigate and prosecute those responsible for such violence, said: "Federal, state and local authorities have not effectively addressed underlying political, ethnic and religious grievances that lead to violence."
It noted that in 2011, government responded to conflict and groups it considered violent extremists in ways that restricted religious freedom and contributed to societal intolerance, adding, "Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities."
The US, however, added that while there were no credible reports of abuses of religious freedom by the Federal Government, a climate of impunity exists in Nigeria because of the reluctance to punish perpetrators of violence.
The report said despite the fact that the constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and forbid adoption of any religion as state religion, there were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief or practice.
"In February (2011), Niger State authorities reportedly dislodged a small Islamic group called Islahuddeen, which had allegedly spoken out against the state government from the Mashegu, Mariga and Kontagora Local Government Areas.
"Armed police allegedly bulldozed the group's central mosque and other buildings and took members into custody for an indeterminate amount of time," the report added.
It also cited the law that the Katsina State legislature passed last October that many opponents believed inhibited the freedom of Muslim clerics to preach openly against the government as another example of government's attempts to regulate religious practice in Nigeria.
The report said in some Northern states, authorities reportedly denied building permits for the construction of churches and expansion and renovation of existing ones, while churches occasionally applied for residential permits as alternatives.
The report added that Muslims in the predominantly Christian southern part of Kaduna State accused local government officials of stopping the construction of mosques and Islamic schools.
The report said despite the fact that the Nigerian constitution provides for separation of religion and state, many Christians have argued that the widespread use of Sharia courts for adjudication in some Northern states amounted to the adoption of Islam as a state religion.
"Although the jurisdiction of Sharia technically does not apply to non-Muslims in civil and criminal proceedings, certain social mores inspired by Sharia, such as the separation of the sexes in public schools, health care, voting, and transportation services, affected non-Muslim minorities in the North.
"Many non-Muslims perceived that they lived under the rule of a Muslim government and often feared reprisals for their religious affiliation," the report added.
The report also noted the case of Zamfara State, which promoted Islam as a state religion through the establishment of a Commission for Religious Affairs that tended to favour Muslims.
It cited a recommendation by the commission to the state government to fund the construction of mosques without similar recommendation to use state funds for the construction of churches.
It also drew attention to the non-implementation of the reports of many commissions set up by the Federal and Plateau State Governments on the internecine clashes in Jos, the state capital, and its environs.
On Boko Haram, the report said: "Boko Haram has likely killed more Muslims than Christians, since its primary bases of operation have existed in the predominantly Muslim North."
It described Boko Haram as an extremist sect which aims to overthrow the Federal Government and imposed a stricter form of Sharia nationwide.
On Nigeria's religious demography, the report said: "Many groups estimate the population to be 50 per cent Muslim, 45 per cent Christian, and 5 per cent practitioners of indigenous religious beliefs."
Giving a breakdown of the demography, it said the North is dominated by the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri ethnic groups who are predominantly Muslims, while significant Christian communities reside and intermarry with Muslims in the area for more than 50 years.
It added that both Muslims and Christians reside in about equal numbers in the "Middle Belt", including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and the South-west, where the Yoruba ethnic group predominates, with most of them practising either Christianity or Islam, while the practice of traditional Yoruba religious beliefs continues.
In the South-east, where the Igbo ethnic group is dominant, and in the Niger Delta region, where the Ogoni and Ijaw ethnic groups are most numerous, it noted that Christians form the majority, with only an estimated 1 per cent Muslim population in the latter.
The report said US officials discussed religious freedom with the Nigerian government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights and also encourage government to address sectarian violence in a sensitive manner.
"The main message involved encouraging authorities to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice while respecting human rights and to modify its record of impunity to deter future acts of violence," it added.
Apart from shaping US government policy towards countries appraised, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also uses the report to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated "particularly severe violations" of religious freedom, otherwise known as countries of particular concern.