The Nigerian government has written a letter to the British parliamentary group denying claims by the Northern Christian Elders Forum (NORCEF) that the current administration is alienating Christians.
The government’s response is contained in the letter signed by Nigeria’s high commissioner to UK, George Adetola Oguntade.
In a statement by Garba Shehu, Presidential Spokesperson, two letters were addressed to Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, a former Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and now head, independent review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support of persecuted Christians, as well as Baroness Berridge, the chair of all parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief.
The statement said the Nigerian government strongly dismissed the allusions that the Boko Haram terrorism served a government agenda against Christians.
“It would be useful for me to engage with this process to ensure that you are thoroughly briefed on the situation in Nigeria,” Oguntade wrote in the correspondences.
The high commissioner, who responded to the interim report on foreign and commonwealth office support for persecuted christians, told Rev Mounstephen: “The safety and security of all Nigerians, whatever their faith, is a fundamental priority of the Buhari government. The government knows that Nigeria can only achieve its potential if there is religious tolerance and cooperation.”
Oguntade, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, explained that Buhari’s deputy is a pastor and that the president has befriended church leaders and church groups both within and outside Nigeria.
He added that the president’s cabinet is balanced between Muslims and Christians and that he himself was a former chancellor of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).
Oguntade noted that Vice President Osinbajo had maintained regular contacts with Christian and Muslim leaders as part of efforts to build and sustain interfaith dialogue.
In the correspondences, he stressed that the country’s security challenges had no ethnic and religious colourations. He also said the farmers/herders clashes predated the Buhari administration.
He explained that such clashes bordered on the desire for pasture by the herders and the desire to protect crops from encroachment and destruction by the farmers.
Noting that the administration was taking a major step to address the root cause of these crises and violent clashes pitting Muslim and Christian farmers alike against the herders, he added: “The issue of grazing routes is historically central to these conflicts and the Buhari administration is taking a holistic approach to the matter with a view to ending it once and for all, so that Nigerians can live in peace with one another.”
The High Commissioner assured the international community that the Buhari administration would ensure that the competition over scarce land is resolved peacefully for the benefits of all parties.