A prominent 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 Rights 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 clamours 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. The Rights group 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 hierachy 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 Nassir Elruffai 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, religions 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, religions 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.
HURIWA 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.
HURIWA 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.”
HURIWA recalled the Catholic Church leader as stating that: “It is our tradition to meet always, to interact, to pray, and to express solidarity with ourselves and those who are in need. We are a voice for the people. Our voice is a prophetic voice. We see where things are good, we say it so. Where things are bad, we say it so. This is our mission and today we are in Borno State. We are truly overwhelmed with what we have seen. I can tell you we are already convinced that Borno State is on a very high level gear of progress. They say seeing is believing. We have come, we have seen, and we are convinced there’s a lot of good happenings here”.
Similarly, the Rights group said it was impressed to read the positive testaments rendered in favour of the Borno state governor by the Chairman, Borno Christian Association of Nigeria Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed.
The Christian Association of Nigeria in Borno had commended Governor Shettima for visiting destroyed Churches in these areas in Southern Borno state and for releasing N100 million for the rebuilding of some of these churches.
Bishop Mohammed of CAN Borno state, according to news report had stated that a committee was set up for that purpose in which he served as a member of the committee headed by a permanent Secretary, Mr. Justus Zare as Chairman, and that he is happy to inform Nigerians that “presently we have used that money to rebuild 11 key churches which our people are now using for their worship services. I am surprised when some people were saying why not rebuilding all the churches, we cannot do that because there were so many places that are still unsafe for people to return, and you cannot expect us to go to the Christian communities of the fringes of Sambisa Forest to start rebuilding their destroyed churches, when the security situation has not improved”.
HURIWA said: “As a civil society group concerned about good governance, we are pleased to read from a Christian leader in Borno and we got credible information to corroborate his affirmation that after, the initial N100m, Governor Kashim Shettima graciously approved another N105 million for the 2nd phase of rebuilding destroyed churches. This was made possible when CAN officials led by my humble self-had a meeting with him on Thursday 30th March, 2017 at the Government House. So far, the governor has released N210 million for reconstruction of our burnt churches”.
HURIWA expressed joy that the Borno State governor also approved the sponsorship of all the local pastors in the state to participate in the 2017 Jerusalem Pilgrimage even as it applauded the Borno Governor Shettima for reportedly approving allocation of Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) and land for church buildings in the state.