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06/04/2022 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of State released a report analyzing the state of religious freedom, country by country, worldwide. The report is published annually and serves as an important tool to increase understanding of persecution in its many forms around the world.

Though State removed Nigeria from its list of the world’s worst persecutors in November—a move that drew widespread and continued criticism from human rights watchdogs—the recent report does highlight a number of examples where the Nigerian government is actively persecuting religion within its borders.

Kaduna State, the report reports, has a law requiring preachers to obtain a state-issued license and criminalizing demeaning or derogatory language towards other religions. “Violators of the law are subject to fines and/or two to five years imprisonment,” the report says. Katsina State has a similar law.

ICC has written on the Kaduna law previously and has worked to spread awareness of the law on Capitol Hill and at State Department. The law is a severe restriction on religious freedom in Kaduna and promises to create issues for religious minorities for years to come by hampering religious leaders and essentially creating a blasphemy law for the state.

The legislation empowers an Interfaith Preaching Regulatory Council to implement the regulations. “Anyone who doesn’t follow this procedure and begins to preach without authorization will be liable to pay a fine and may even be imprisoned,” El-Rufai said in an interview.

Justifying the need for these new regulations, El-Rufai claimed that “most times, it is preachers that are the worst culprits” and insisted that “before someone can start preaching, he should be very knowledgeable, [and have] understanding and experience to preach in a manner that will bring about peaceful coexistence” as judged by the Council. “The council will have to certify whoever  wants to preach in Kaduna state as having the requisite knowledge, temperament, experience, and foresight.”

China, which has invested heavily in Nigeria in recent years, also regulates religious teaching. These regulations in Kaduna bear an uncanny resemblance to those extremely oppressive laws both in function and in the government’s official reasoning that it is necessary for public safety.

Though El-Rufai is pitching this as a measure to reduce religiously fueled violence, he himself has a troubling history of fueling religious tension. El-Rufai even claimed, in a tweet posted on September 8, 2014, that Christians were behind Boko Haram, funding and controlling it “to tarnish the name of Islam.” In his tweet, he specifically accused the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christians of being behind specific church bombings and shootings. Far from a front for CAN, Boko Haram is an Islamist terror group with strong ties to Islamic State.

In the days leading up to his 2019 reelection, El-Rufai whipped up public anger and physical violence when he falsely claimed that 130 Fulani had been killed in Kajuru, a locality near the capitol city of Kaduna. The Fulani are a Muslim-majority ethnic group. Many, including the National Emergency Management Agency and El Rufai’s own Commissioner of Police, denied his claims of an attack on the Fulani. In fact, eleven native Catholics were killed in Kajuru a few days before his comments. Suspected Fulani militants killed 127 people in Kajuru in what were presumably reprisal attacks in the month following El Rufai’s statement.

In 2012, El-Rufai threatened anyone who might challenge the Fulani, even in the line of military duty. “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not, that kills the Fulani takes a loan payable one day no matter how long it takes,” he tweeted. When he took office as governor in 2015, he said that “the Fulani have nothing to fear, since a Fulani [is] now governor of the state.”

In a recent report, ICC highlighted the danger that El-Rufai poses to the Christian community and shone a light on his extravagant, wealthy lifestyle.

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