…says Christians not under threat in Nigeria
President Muhammadu Buhari has charged the parliament of the United Kingdom (UK) and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, to disregard the petition and allegations that the Federal Government of Nigeria was promoting genocide against Christians and minority ethnic groups in the country.
T he President particularly asked the Commonwealth not to take seriously, the views expressed by a former Chief of Army Staff and ex-Minister of Defence, Lt-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who were said to be signatories to the petition. According to Buhari, the petitioners were neither altruistic nor presenting the true narratives about the source of insecurity in Nigeria. Some members of the House of Lords, the upper legislative chamber in the United Kingdom, had recently petitioned the Commonwealth over the persistence of insurgency and widespread violent conflicts in Nigeria.
In a letter dated September 14, addressed to Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the British lawmakers said the failure of the Federal Government to protect Nigerians was a breach of its obligations under the Commonwealth Charter.
They were acting on a petition by some interest groups in Nigeria who alleged that Christians and minority ethnic groups were the victims of massive killings in the various theatres of conflicts across Nigeria. In an official response to the protests lodged against Nigeria at the Commonwealth Office in London, President Buhari said Nigeria paid serious attention to the challenge of insecurity in Nigeria and pledged to work with the Commonwealth and all concerned parties to bring a lasting solution to it.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who conveyed government’s position on the matter, said the herderfarmer clashes had been an issue for many decades in Nigeria while the Boko Haram terrorists posed a threat not just to Nigeria, but to all countries in the Sahel region in Africa. While acknowledging what the nation stands to benefit from the cooperation with Commonwealth, Shehu cautioned the body and other concerned parties to be careful on who they listen to as some information presented to them may not be altogether in the interest of peaceful coexistence in Nigeria.
He warned: “At the same time, as we take note of the lawmakers’ letter, it is also important to stress to our partners and colleagues in the United Kingdom that not all who press them have the best interests of either democratic governance or peaceful coexistence in mind. “For example, the former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff named and quoted in the letter as a source on military matters, relinquished that position some 40 years ago – in 1979.
He was last in a government position 17 years ago in 2003 (as Minister of Defence). At that time, religious and ethnic riots erupted in two states of the federation (2001 and 2002), these were violently and ruthlessly put down by the military under his authority, leading to the loss of thousands of lives and the displacement of some further 50,000 persons.
He is, therefore, not a natural source of pressure for good governance. “Another, signatory to the letter, is well-known to be associated with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a Nigerian-blacklisted terrorist group. The IPOB are running a wellknown (source of financing unknown) international campaign intended to damage the reputation of Nigeria and its government in order to further their cause of “independence”. He jumped bail in Nigeria.
He frequently travels on a Nigerian passport, but urged his supporters to burn their passports! “The IPOB barely mention their aims in their publicity; neither do they mention that their own leadership do not claim to be Christian. Yet, their media and lobbying campaign has focused near-exclusively on promoting matters related to Christianity in Nigeria, promulgating false claims that a government with 50 per cent of its cabinet and 50 per cent of its state governors who are Christians somehow works against Christians.
We call on our British friends and colleagues to join us in addressing genuine solutions, not pander to agents of anarchy.” He challenged the British lawmakers to visit Ni-geria either formally or informally to discuss with government officials, see things for themselves and assess the situation.
He said: “We ask our British colleagues to visit Nigeria, whether formally or informally to discuss all the points raised in their letter. Our government is made equally of Christian and Muslim cabinet members; our Vice President is an Evangelical Pastor.
We have everything to gain as a country through international cooperation with concerned, senior British parliamentarians and policymakers. “The threat to civilians and peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups from Boko Haram, banditry and land disputes is of serious concern to the President and the government. It is incorrect, however, to assert that the government has or is doing nothing to address these intertwined threats.” On what the government was doing about clashes between the farmers and herders as well as dangers posed by the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents, Shehu said: “First, there are on-going efforts for the establishment of cattle ranches to prevent or curtail open grazing, the practice that brings herders and farmers into conflict.
This is an age-old problem facing Nigerian Governments since the colonial days. “However, matters of land distribution are dealt with at state level. This means willingness has to be shown by state governors to drive the process forward. The Federal Government launched a plan last year to work with states to address these issues together. Unfortunately, this has been lacking in some states.”