The removal of Nigeria from the religious violators watch-list by the President Joe Biden-led US administration in the run-up to the visit of Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State to Nigeria is a triumph of diplomacy and sagacity over the hate-driven foreign policy of the administration before his, which was founded on false propaganda.
In announcing Nigeria’s removal, Secretary Blinken said the decision of the Joe Biden Government was “Based on facts.”
Reacting to the US decision, President Muhammadu Buhari noted that there was freedom of worship in Nigeria, and no one was discriminated against on the basis of his or her faith. He expressed the country’s appreciation for the de-listing of Nigeria from the watch-list.
Since Nigeria was included on the watch-list in December 2020, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election loss, it has taken only 11 months for this decision to be reversed under the Biden administration.
This sad and uncalled for ban came on the heels of 12 months of lies by some extremist groups and the banned terrorist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB’s, well-funded international media campaign.
Nigeria should never have been on the list. It was included after paid right-wing American lobbyists were funded millions of dollars by IPOB to spread falsehoods and misinformation about Nigeria. Those who willingly took money from the terrorists spread falsehoods against a democratically elected government. They took advantage of well-meaning, God-fearing Americans to whom they spread their lies.
Their aim was to drive a wedge, for political advantage, between the two great religions being practiced in the country and by doing so, make true their fake claims that Muslims and Christians cannot live side-by-side in love and peace. They did not care if their maliciousness was the cause of religious tension. In fact, it is possible they sought to encourage it to prove their point.
It is a fallacy to suggest that 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 their faith on their sleeves and walk freely in all parts of the country unhindered.
Nigeria is one of the most religious nations in the world – near equally balanced between Muslims and Christians. It is a well-known fact that President Buhari counts amongst his personal friends many global Christian leaders, though he himself is a Muslim; the Nigerian Vice President is Pentecostal Pastor; the present 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.
What the Nigerian Government said at the time of the listing remains true that the government under President Muhammadu Buhari is run in accordance with the country’s Constitution. The losses of life and threats to the lives of the civilian population from communal and inter-communal violence, banditry and terrorism are of great concern to the administration. It is, therefore, incorrect for anyone to assume the position that the government was doing nothing to address these intertwined threats.
The present administration in Nigeria has successfully dispossessed terrorists in the Northeast of all land and territory that were hitherto held by the terrorists; forcing them into hiding out amongst remote forests and across borders where they are being fought in those locations.
To address the cases of violence against the civilian population in the face of the harsh odds imposed by the COVID economy, the Nigerian Government recently recruited 10,000 new constables. All arms of the Military and paramilitary agencies have been authorised to recruit additional men. The procurement of military hardware has also been intensified.
With this egregious listing removed, US-Nigeria relations are now reset and would 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.
Nigeria now looks forward to a robust working relationship with the Biden administration on issues, bilateral and multilateral that are important to the friendly states and the world at large.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.
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