A pro-democracy and non-governmental organization – Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has charged governors of states in the North to prioritize the promotion and protection of freedom of religion/worship as a major component of good governance in their states.
The rights group said it is worried by the longstanding institutionalized discriminatory practices targeted against indigenous Christian communities in the North by state governments even as it has called on the governors to borrow a leaf from the Borno State Governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima who obviously has set excellent strategies for the promotion of inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace.
The group praised the Borno state governor for equitably rebuilding and reconstructing many churches and mosques recently destroyed by armed Islamists of Boko Haram.
In a media statement against the backdrops of clamour by Christian religious leaders who raised persistent alarms over coordinated persecution and systemic marginalization by Northern state governments, HURIWA said such claims are factually accurate but was quick to commend the current Borno State government for enforcing legal and policy frameworks for equity, equality rights and social justice for all religions affiliations.
The group said also that the observations made by the Catholic Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ibadan headed by Archbishop Gabriel Leke Abegunrin that there is systematic persecution of Christians in Nigeria is unassailable but was quick to state that the persecution of Christians was more pronounced in Northern States than anywhere else hence the urgent call on the Northern governors to learn from their Chairman and governor of Borno state the tactics he adopts in ensuring inter-religious peace and unity in Borno state so s to replicate same in all the Northern States.
It also alleged that in some Northern states like Katsina and Niger, there have been reports of state sponsored abduction and forced conversions through compulsory marriages of teenage girls as young as 14 even as the security forces headed mostly by the Northerners look the other way.
The group said such cowardly criminal acts being encouraged and sponsored by some states in the North is to be blamed for the growing agitations amongst diverse Ethno -religious peoples of these Northern States and in some instances have led to breakdowns of law and order.
HURIWA through its National coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director Miss Zainab Yusuf, condemned the unconstitutional practices by some Northern state governments such as Katsina which has persistently revoked the certificates of occupancy of places of worship set up by indigenous Christian residents of the state and many other core Northern states.
It however attested to the impressive facts that the bonafide Christian hierarchy in Borno state has loudly and consistently testified that in Borno state there are no visible discriminatory regime of one sided policies and programmes by the state governor to sideline the Christians who dominate Southern Borno State unlike in Kaduna state whereby the current governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has become notorious for denying the Christian dominated Southern Kaduna of certain rights such as the right to having qualitative and credible higher educational and health facilities as against the many higher and tertiary educational and health facilities located deliberately in Northern Kaduna which has a large population of Moslems.
“As a civil rights group, we are shocked that some Northern states have elevated one religion as state religion even as the Jigawa state governor was once quoted in the media as affirming that he would use state resources to promote the Islamic faith which is a clear violation of section 10 of the Nigerian constitution and section 42(1) of the 1999 constitution which prohibits enforcements discriminatory state policies”.
HURIWA averred that section 10 provides that “The government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state Religion”, even as section 42(1) provides thus: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person. (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject; (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizen Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions”.
HURIWA however poured encomiums on the Borno state governor for maintaining social harmony through the implementation of policies and programmes that have been acclaimed for treating members of all faith groups and ethnic nationalities in Borno state as equal citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
HURIWA reminded other Northern governors that the Borno state governor has come under profound commendations from cross sections of credible Christian leaders for his exemplary conducts of treating every citizen as the same under the extant constitution.
The group recalled that the President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama was recently quoted in the popular media as stating that he is attracted to the qualities in Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima because he has proved not to be “narrow minded and myopic” but rather one who is broad and fair to adherents of all religious groups as being testified by Christian leaders from all denominations living in Borno.
It also recalled that the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference that was on an empathy visit to Borno to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maiduguri Catholic Diocese (1966 to 2016) had reportedly showered praises on the Borno state governor thus: “I have met Governor Shettima at different Fora, and I must say I have been very much attracted to his personality. He is not the narrow minded and myopic kind of leader. He is a leader whose vision is broad and whose hands are large enough to embrace everybody. He is also very humble”.
The rights group said the head of the Catholic Bishops also affirmed thus: “I told His Eminence, the Cardinal, that in some places we go, we have to wait for two hours or three in order to meet some government personalities but in Borno State, the Governor was the one receiving us and bringing us in. We came from different parts of Nigeria, and we are Catholic Bishops.”