The Nigerian government has commended the removal of the country from the list of countries blacklisted for “engaging in violation of religious freedom” by the US government.
In December 2020, the US had listed Nigeria among countries blacklisted for “violating religious freedom”.
But on Wednesday, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, ommited Nigeria when announcing the names of countries on the list.
In a statement on Thursday, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu argued that Nigeria ought not to be in the list in the first place.
Shehu said contrary to the claim, there is religious tolerance in Nigeria.
The presidential spokesman said Nigeria’s inclusion in the list last year was because of “lies by some extremist groups and the banned terrorist group the Independent People of Biafra, IPOB’s well-funded international media campaign.”
Buttressing his point, Shehu cited how President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have been able to work together despite their religious differences.
Shehu added that some of the president’s friends are also renowned Christians even though he’s a Muslim.
He said: “It is a fallacy to suggest Nigeria lacks religious freedom. A visit to any city will see a surfeit of posters for religious groups, for Muslims and Christians alike. Nigerians wear our faith on our sleeves.
“Nigeria is one of the most religious nations in the world – near equally balanced between Muslims and Christians. It is well-known the President counts amongst his personal friends many global Christian leaders, though he himself is Muslim; our Vice President is an Evangelical pastor; our cabinet is equally balanced between Christians and Muslims.
“This is not to say there are no tensions. The President and all who serve in his administration know there are. And they are being addressed: for instance, the present administration is the only government since independence to introduce a plan to address farmer-herder clashes. Today that plan is working. Many states are taking the lead in its implementation because they, not the Federal Government control land.”
Shehu said the development would further strengthen the existing ties between Nigeria and the US.
He added: “With this egregious listing removed, US-Nigeria relations are now reset, and we can jointly seek resolution to other critical matters – including the fight against terrorists across the Sahel region.
“This task was complicated by the now reversed decision. To that end, the present administration looks forward to working with the Biden administration on matters, bilateral and multilateral that are important to our friendly states.
“President Buhari is satisfied with the decision by the United States to remove Nigeria from a list of countries deemed to lack religious freedom, placed there by a previous US administration no longer in office.”
Saharareporters, new York