Following the Declaration by the General Assembly of United Nations that 22nd August of each year should be marked as International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion, Belief, or Faith, the religious community in Nigeria marked the Day with a Press Conference held in Lagos, Nigeria.

 Representatives of the following Religions and Groups participated in the Press Conference:

  1. Traditional Religion Practitioners
  2. Muslims
  3. Christians
  4. Voice of Christian Martyrs
  5. Also available were 11 journalists representing various media houses in both print and electronic media.

The key discussants were as follows:

  • Mr. Solomon Asemota, SAN - Christian Social Movement of Nigeria (CSMN)
  • Alhaji Alowonle Mohammed representing Sheikh Abdulraheem Aduanigba, the Chief Imam of Yoruba in Ilorin and the Head of Islam in Yorubaland, South West, Nigeria.
  • Baba Awo Abiodun Agboola, Dr. Fakayode Fayemi Fatunde, and Dr. Akin Adejuwon from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), representing African Traditional Religion
  • Voice of Christian Martyrs representing persecuted Christians in Nigeria. 12 survivors of Christian persecution were at the Press Conference and Mr. Thoma Davou Gyang spoke on behalf of the group.

 The Press Conference highlighted the following points to promote religious freedom in Nigeria:

  1. Every Nigerian knows that religious freedom is right and desirable and no one wants his religious rights violated. However, when people benefit from discrimination, they close their eyes to injustice. In the long run, discrimination does not benefit anyone because the injury it causes affects everybody. In view of this, the Conference called on all Nigerians to shun religious discrimination and comply with the spirit and letter of Section 38 (1) of the Constitution which says, "Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
  2. The Conference called on the Government of Nigeria, at all levels, to cease persecution of Nigerians on the basis of religion. The secularity of Nigeria was re-emphasized and Government was admonished to stop violating Section 10 of the Constitution which states that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”
  3. Further to the above, the Conference condemned the dual conflicting ideologies in the 1999 Constitution. The Conference quoted the Legal Opinion of late Justice Mohammed Bello in which he stated, “Section 38(1) of the Constitution ensures for every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, whereas under Sharia, ‘ridda’ (change of religion) is a capital offence. Consequently, the offence of ‘ridda’ is inconsistent with Section 38(1) and by virtue of Section 1 is unconstitutional.”
  4. In view of the foregoing, the Conference on Religious Freedom advocated a NEW Constitution for Nigeria. The Conference recalled that Nigeria was established on the basis of Liberal Democracy as the National Ideology with Parliamentary system of Government. Conference advocated return to the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria which only requires minor amendments one of which is to increase the number of Regions.
  5. Conference encouraged Nigerians, particularly the men, to borrow courage from Leah Sharibu and demand new Constitution for Nigeria. Nigerians were urged to use every peaceful and legal means possible to return the country to its right foundation through the adoption of 1963 Republican Constitution. As Leah Sharibu has demonstrated, standing for one's right is more important than seeking one's comfort and convenience.
  6. It was noted that on the day of the Conference, 22nd August, 2019, Leah Sharibu had spent 547 days in captivity because she refused to change her religion. The Conference lamented that a nation that cannot defend a small girl is not worth being called a nation. Conference strongly demanded the release of Leah Sharibu, the remaining girls from Chibok and other Nigerians held in captivity on account of their faith.
  7. In the same vein, Conference condemned the arrest of Mr. Omoyele Sowore and condemned the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a totalitarian state. The Conference demanded the release of Mr. Omoyele Sowore because his freedom of expression is violated. Conference noted that the arrest of Mr. Sowore is not demonstration of Democracy but the expression of an alternative religious ideology competing with Democracy in Nigeria. Conference reiterated that Nigeria is a Democratic country and should not be run with any sectional religious ideology.
  8. The Muslim community in Yorubaland strongly opposed the classification of Kwara State as part of the North and pointed out that religion was used to enslave the people. Sheikh Abdulraheem Aduanigba, speaking through his representative at the Conference, Alhaji Alowonle Mohammed, protested that religion was used as tool to enslave the Yoruba people of Kwara State who constitute over 75% of the population in Kwara State and 85% of the population in Ilorin. The Yoruba community in Kwara insists that they are part of the West and should no longer be classified as North.
  9. Alhaji Alowonle condemned the replacement of religion with political propaganda to enslave ethnic nationalities, particularly the Yoruba people in Kwara and Kogi states. He urged all Yoruba Muslims to cooperate with Sheikh Aduanigba, the head of Islam in Yorubaland, to emancipate Yoruba Muslims from religious bondage.
  10. Conference urged all Nigerians to emulate the Yoruba people in religious harmony and tolerance.
  11. Adherents of Traditional Religion insisted on apology from Muslims and Christians for discriminating against them. At National events, in observance of Public Holidays and in teaching of religious studies in schools, Traditional Religion is treated as non-existent.
  12. Traditional Religion advocated for justice on issues affecting religion in the country as prerequisite for peace and religious freedom. If there is no justice, there can be no freedom.
  13. Conference recommended the setting up of Religious Equity Commission (RECOM), to manage issues that affect religion in the country. It was noted that this recommendation is part of the Report of the 2014 National Conference.
  14. Voice of Christian Martyrs (VOCM) thanked Nigerians for supporting persecuted Christians and urged that more is needed to be done to succor those languishing in the various IDP camps. Mr. Thoma Davou Gyang, who himself was a victim of religious persecution, pleaded for support for Children of Martyrs at Stephen Children's Home in Abeokuta.
  15. Conference resolved to commemorate the next International Day of Religious Freedom in 2020 on a more elaborate scale.

Bosun Emmanuel
24th August, 2019