Long Read: Removing the Obstacles to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa

Religion-related tensions continue to arise in many African countries. They come in varying forms and degrees of intensity, and can be intra-religious or occur between religious communities.

Religion is either instrumentalised as a rallying point or is the raison d’étre of armed non state actors seeking to enforce an extremist interpretation of their creed or to gain material advantage. It is used by individuals or political parties as a bridge to power and rallying point.  In addition, some governments view religion, or certain religious or non-religious groups, as threats, exercising control through excessive registration requirements or more forcible means. 

Every country on the African continent is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), with its expanded articulation of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), where the right to change or refuse one’s religion or belief as an act of conscience can be inferred from Article 8. However, in parts of the continent, human rights in general, and FoRB in particular, are challenged by arguments about cultural relativism and frequent but erroneous assertions that they are a Western construct. 

Thus, despite being parties to international and regional treaties, many African countries either do not give legal effect to them, or create exemptions for their implementation. This has further exacerbated their already poor profile on human rights protection.

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Ruth Ngladar Pogu’s release is welcome, but the man with her is not her ‘husband’

On 8 August, the state governor of Nigeria’s Borno State confirmed that Ruth Ngladar Pogu, one of around 276 girls infamously abducted from their school in Chibok, was free.

Ms Ngladar is the 108th Chibok Girl to regain some form of freedom. Several are thought to have died whilst in captivity, with an estimated 111 reported to still be in the hands of the now amalgamated terrorist group.

Ms Ngladar had reportedly surrendered herself to the military alongside one of her captors and two children she had given birth to while in captivity at the end of July, and while her freedom after over seven years is good news, the challenges that lie ahead of her and her family remain extensive.

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Killed on a daily basis: International inaction on Nigeria’s security crisis cannot continue

On 3 June the predominantly Christian Tudun Agwalla community in Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA), Kaduna State, Nigeria, buried nine of its members in a mass grave. They had been murdered by machete wielding assailants of Fulani ethnicity, who had attacked the village in the early hours of the morning. An unknown number of people were also injured during the attack. Seven remain missing.

The tragedy continued the next day when three-year-old Elizabeth Samaila became the tenth victim of the attack after she died from her injuries.

This is by no means an isolated event. Since the start of the year, predominantly Christian communities in southern Kaduna have been violently attacked in this manner on an almost daily basis. Hundreds have lost their lives, hundreds more have been injured, and an estimated 20,000 people have been displaced.

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#FREELEAH

A guest blog by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP. 

The Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP is Conservative Member of Parliament for Meriden and Second Church Estates Commissioner. In May 2018 she met with Rev Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria and CSW UK’s Parliamentary Officer, Alice Braybrook to discuss freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria.

Today is the 15th birthday of Leah Sharibu. But, unlike most young girls around the world, she will be spending her birthday in captivity.

On 19 February 2018, Leah was among 110 girls who were abducted from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, north eastern Nigeria, by the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. The oldest abductees were 18 years of age; the youngest were 11.

On 21 March 2018, over a month after their capture, Boko Haram returned 105 of the girls to Dapchi, following negotiations with the government. Five had reportedly died during the arduous journey to Boko Haram’s hideout.

However, returnees confirmed that Leah Sharibu, the sole Christian among them, remained in captivity due to her refusal to convert and wear a hijab. Her friends said they begged her to feign conversion so they could all leave together.  However, a tearful Leah is reported to have informed them she could not live with herself if she did so. She also asked them to tell her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, to pray for the will of God to be done in her life. In a comment to Nigerian media her father Nathan Sharibu said: “They gave her the option of converting in order to be released but she said she will never become a Muslim. I am very sad… but I’m also jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ.” 

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Beyond Boko Haram: Child Abductions in Nigeria

In March 2016, two female minors who had been kidnapped and subject to forced conversion and marriage in Northern Nigeria were returned to their families after unprecedented public pressure. Their plight has put the spotlight on an issue that goes largely unremarked outside of northern Nigeria.

#FreeEse: The Abduction and Return of Ese Rita Oruru

Fourteen year-old Ese Rita Oruru from Bayelsa State in the south of the country, was allegedly abducted on 12 August 2015 by a man called Yunusa Dahiru, also known as “Yellow”. A regular customer at her mother’s food store, he transported Ese, then aged 13, over 800km away to Kano State in the predominantly Muslim north of the country, where she was obliged to change her religion and name, and was “married”.

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