Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who spoke during the week while welcoming the release of the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, applauded Secretary Pompeo’s announcement of a Ministerial Committee to Advance Religious Freedom scheduled for July 25-26, 2018.
The US report is coming just as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Thursday expressed concern that the introduction of Arabic Language as part of examinations in a secular country like Nigeria by the Buhari administration is another brazen attempt to Islamise the country and called for the cancellation of the Nigerian Police recruitment examination conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) where the Arabic Language was part of the subjects listed in the examination.
Smith said the federal government under Buhari was indifferent to attacks by Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian farmers.
He, therefore, stated that except Buhari spoke out against the killings, the situation would likely worsen in the lead-up to the 2019 general election.
He said: “Congress is watching the situation in Nigeria with growing concern, as the Nigerian government there appears too often to be indifferent to attacks by Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian farmers.
“The confluence of religious, ethnic, economic and political tensions is only likely to be exacerbated in the lead-up to elections next year unless President Muhammadu Buhari speaks out with a clear voice condemning the herdsmen attacks.
“We grieve with the families of those killed, including those of two priests and 17 worshippers who were buried just last week following an attack by herdsmen in Benue state in April.
“Getting the facts right on the global state of religious freedom is essential for the shaping of U.S. policy and priorities, and that is why the State Department’s annual report is so important.
“I welcome the report’s release and urge concerted action to protect this fundamental freedom.
“Religious freedom is under siege globally, challenging U.S. interests. It is no coincidence that the worst violators of religious freedom globally are also the biggest threats to our nation—those who wish to do Americans the most harm, and those who most want to tear down the pillars of democratic societies.”
According to him, a robust religious freedom diplomacy not only reflects American values but advances U.S. national security interests.
Congressman Smith noted the need to take more direct action in certain countries including Nigeria.
While briefing journalists on the report last Tuesday, the US Department of State’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback said he would travel to Nigeria this month (June) to talk with leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, Christian and Muslim, to talk about what we can do to move forward, to reduce the level of violence, to open the way for religious freedom.
He said: “I have been meeting with a number of different Nigerian leaders, and it’s been a very difficult- I met with three leaders, last week. And they said to me – Sunday used to be the day they hated to see coming the most because that is when most of the attacks would take place.”
He said that the Nigerian government had the responsibility to protect the right to freedom of religion, adding that the US would continue to push Nigeria to do that.
“Our effort is for religious freedom for everybody, regardless of faith, or even if you’re a person without faith, but that you are free to do with your own conscience whatever you choose and that no government has the right to interfere with that,” he added.
The report noted that there were incidents of killings and other forms of violence between members of different religious groups in Nigeria in 2017.
The report read: “Many killings occurred between farmers and herders in the central Middle Belt region, where farmers are predominantly Christians and from various ethnic groups, and herders are predominantly Fulani Muslims.
“This violence included religious differences as a factor, according to scholars and other experts, but also involved ethnicity, politics, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources as a result of population growth, soil degradation, and internal displacement from other forms of violence and criminality occurring in the north.”
The report chronicled many of the killings and clashes which had a religious undertone that took place in Nigeria in the year under review.
It stated: “The government continued to detain the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), the country’s largest Shia group, and restrict the activities, free movement, and free association of its members.
“There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report and reports from non-government observers, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass graves.”
The report also stated that both Muslim and Christian groups said there was a lack of just handling of their mutual disputes and inadequate protection by federal, state, and local authorities, especially in central regions, where there were longstanding, violent disputes between Hausa and Fulani Muslims and Christian ethnic groups.
It said: “In disputes between primarily Christian farmers and Muslim herders, herders stated they did not receive justice when their members were killed or their cattle were stolen by the farming community, which they said caused them to carry out retaliatory attacks. Farmers stated that security forces did not intervene when their villages were being attacked by herdsmen.”
CAN Calls for Cancellation of Police Recruitment Exams
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Thursday called for the cancellation of the Nigerian Police recruitment examination conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) where the Arabic Language was part of the subjects listed in the examination.
CAN argued that the inclusion of Arabic Language created confusion among Christian students and has the potential of affecting their overall performance in the examination.
According to CAN President, Rev. Samson Supo Ayokunle, “The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is disappointed at the incessant insensitivity of the federal government to the clarion calls being made by all right-thinking Nigerians to stop playing religious card at the expense of peace and unity of the country.
“CAN regretted that our several calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to overhaul the security committee of the government with a view to balancing religious dichotomy have been falling on the deaf ear. His government has also failed to stop the unending killings by the criminal Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country especially in the Christian dominated North-central.
“In the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the federal government reportedly appropriated over N600 million in the 2018 budget for execution of capital projects at the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS), just as it has committed N200 million to the rehabilitation of the board’s buildings ceded to it by the government.
“The only reason why Leah Sharibu and other Chibok girls remain in the captivity of the outlawed Boko Haram terrorists is because they are Christians. CAN begins to wonder if the Islamisation agenda has become a reality or the government is in a hurry to bring the hidden plan into a reality.
“The just concluded Nigeria Police entrance examination using JAMB computer based test (CBT) where Arabic language (the official Islamic language) was made compulsory for Muslims and Christians alike is another dirty slap on the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“To many Christian youths who sat for that examination, the display of the Arabic language questions came as a rude shock. Many could not recover from the setback until JAMB logged them out of the CBT platform. Obviously achieving the aim of the Islamic extremists who are hell-bent on fostering their religion and culture on the Nigeria Police Force.
“While it is true that in some police examination centres, some officiating officers advised the candidates to ignore the Arabic language questions but that again ran contrary to the examination instructions wherein a candidate was required to answer 180 questions viz: Use of English 60, Arabic language 40, Fine Arts 40, and Agriculture 40 hence summing up the 180 questions each candidate is required to answer.”
Ayokunle explained that: “This deliberate attempt to undermine Christians in Nigeria leaves so many questions as to the unity of the nation. It goes to confirm the following – that in a country we all call our own because the Inspector General of Police and the President are Muslims, they ensure only Muslims get easy entrance to the force.
“That they ensure that only Muslims find their way into strategic planning positions. If not how come this policy of forcing Christians to write the Arabic language was planned and hatched without any Christian knowing about it until the entire Christian community in Nigeria were told they do not count?
“It also goes to confirm that the plan to make Arabic language compulsory for entrance to our universities with utter disregard for the principle of secularism of the Nigeria nation will be forced down our throats.
“However, it’s important to warn here that the Christians in Nigeria can no longer be taken for a ride. We, therefore, call for the immediate cancellation of the purported police entrance exams and a proper examination conducted.
“The candidates should be informed of the subjects they will be examined on before time so that they will be properly tested as it obtains in every sane society.
“We also find the puerile justification of this very provocative action by JAMB very ridiculous.”
Ayokunle also stated: “The JAMB explanation does not hold any water at all. Other professional bodies like the West African College of Surgeons, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, Pilgrims Board use JAMB for the CBT examination and they don’t use any dummy questions. They set only surgery examinations questions or questions relevant to the specific specialty.
“Dummies are used for pretest exams, not actual exams to know if the questions are of good standard. And pre-test is performed on very few candidates to gauge the standard of the questions.”
The CAN President observed that “at the Port Harcourt centre, it was only a few minutes to the end of the examinations that the candidates were informed that they should answer only USE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The implication is that they were short-changed as there was little or no time to complete the test.
“The JAMB officer is being clever by half, how can you introduce 120 dummy questions in an exam of 180 questions and then claim they are to answer only 60 questions.
“And why Arabic language, even if they claimed it is Alphabetic abracadabra, why not Accounting that comes before Arabic in Alphabetical order? And the statement by Dr Fabian Benjamin, the JAMB Spokesperson published in Punch Newspaper on May 26th, 2019 showed that JAMB doesn’t know what Alphabetical order is.
“How can Arabic language come before Accounting and Agriculture. If a national examination body does not understand the simple Alphabetical order, how can they justify their competence and integrity? And the computer programme/software is so versatile that it can be programmed for specific questions, not the so-called JAMB dummies.
“The most appropriate action is to cancel the exams and conduct a fresh one devoid of controversies.
“It will be wrong for the president of Nigeria (who swore to defend both the Christians and Muslims alike) to turn around to allow his appointees seek to divide the nation through their actions.
“If the president can allow this affront now and he is still seeking the vote of Christians for a second term we do not trust he will keep us alive if he ascends that throne for another four years.
“CAN demands evidence of cancellation of the examination and fixing of a date for a retake within 72 hours of this notice. Else, the Christian community in Nigeria will have no choice than embark on other measures to seek redress of this national insult.
“We also demand evidence of the withdrawal of Arabic language as a compulsory elective for management science studies in tertiary institutions from National Universities Commission,” he said.