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KILLING OF CHRISTIANS IN NIGERIA

Your invitation letter profusely highlighted the issues of the killing of Christians in Nigeria, the last major incident being the recent killings in Southern Kaduna in Kaduna state, and I do not need to elaborate on that. The challenge is how do we stop that from recurring. How do we ensure that Christians and Muslims cohabit peacefully in Nigeria and practice their religions freely without discrimination, molestation and killings?
One school of thought believes that these killings reoccur because of impunity. Security and law enforcement bodies unfortunately have a history of failing to apprehend the culprits of previous killings and disturbances and punishing according to the law. Such impunity has emboldened and encouraged persons with such tendencies.

Indeed, though there have been over 10 major incidences of ethnic and religious conflagration in the frontline
state of Kaduna since 1979, there has only ever been one incidence where the authorities took action, according to the law, to punish the culprits of the disturbances. This was in 1992, after the Zangon Kataf riots in which the official death toll was 300. The military administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida constituted the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal to try arrested persons and a total of 14 persons were sentenced to death, although the Babangida administration commuted the sentences to five years imprisonment.

Within the period I served as a Vice President and later as President, it became very clear to me that if the issue of religion is not handled properly, the unity of the country would be in great jeopardy. Religious and other ethnic issues were becoming a stumbling block towards societal cohesion and economic development. I therefore set up a National Conference with the mandate of looking into all the grey areas militating against the peace, progress and development of Nigeria. On the issue of religion, let me quote unedited the position of the 2014 National Conference. Nigeria has over 350 ethnic nationalities and that:
‘“This multi-ethnicity has been compounded by pronounced religious differences, exploited usually for political considerations by avid political classes in contexts of extreme poverty and very low educational development among the mass of the populace. Whereas Nigeria is supposed to be a secular state,” one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”, the prevalence of religiosity and its related nepotism at all levels, has effectively undermined the objectivity which secularity would have ordinarily imbued in national politics.”

The Conference further stated that:
“In view of the fact that religion plays a vital role in many aspects of our national life especially in the aspect of national security and national unity, it is highly imperative that it be singled out from other fundamental rights and given a special attention via the creation of an Equity Commission whose sole mandate will be to focus on religious rights and their promotion. This is in line with best global practices as many advanced democracies have special legal and institutional arrangements for some very sensitive aspects of their national life. Examples of such specialized agencies from other countries are presented below:
  1. a) In the United Kingdom, despite the existence of the UK Equal Opportunities Commission (UK-EOC), a Commission for Racial Equality (created by the Race Relations Act, 1976) which existed alongside UK-EOC for many years. This was done because at the time, issues of racial discrimination were very sensitive and crucial that it was thought necessary to create a special commission for it.
  2. b) In the United States, despite the existence of the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, it has other special human rights enforcement agencies created to promote specific rights. One of such agencies is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which is a federal law enforcement agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, genetic information, and retaliation for reporting, participating in, and/or opposing a discriminatory practice.
  3. c) Canada has a similar arrangement to that of the United States. The Canadian Human Rights Act has long prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, and certain other grounds. In 1986, the Canadian government passed the Employment Equity Act which was meant to protect certain restricted vulnerable categories of persons. The Canadian Human Rights Act continues to be in force alongside the Employment Equity Act.
  4. d) In Australia, there are 3 different commissions addressing the issues of human rights, namely: Human Rights Commission, Anti-Discrimination Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission”
I totally agreed with the 2014 National Conference on the need to establish the Religious Equity Commission that will have powers to arrest and prosecute those who contravene the law. If, as a nation, we do not kill religious persecution and extremism, then religious persecution and extremism will kill Nigeria. The potential danger associated with the level of conflicts going on across the country is so glaring that no sane mind can ignore.


Culled from a presentation by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Chairman of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation to the U.S. House Sub Committee on Africa, February 1, 2017

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