In a resounding call for religious inclusivity, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has strongly urged the Nigerian government to establish a National Shrine in Abuja, similar to the significant investments made in the National Christian Centre and the Abuja National Mosque.
This call comes in response to the ongoing support for these religious structures while neglecting the spiritual needs of African Traditional Religion (ATR) adherents. HURIWA contended that this partiality not only contradicts the secular principles enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution but also infringes on the religious rights of ATR practitioners.
The foremost civil rights advocacy group, in a statement on Thursday, expressed concerns that the Federal Government of Nigeria has consistently demonstrated unwavering support for the National Christian Centre and the Abuja National Mosque.
“These institutions serve as significant places of worship for adherents of Christianity and Islam, respectively, representing the diversity of religious beliefs in Nigeria, a nation known for its pluralistic and multi-religious society. However, the oversight in recognizing and investing in the spiritual needs of adherents of Indigenous religions, particularly ATR, raises pressing concerns.
“While Nigeria is officially recognized as a secular state, the government’s pronounced emphasis on the development and maintenance of religious centers for the two major foreign religions, Christianity and Islam, signals a glaring imbalance and disparity when it comes to indigenous religions. This imbalance not only runs counter to the principles of religious inclusivity but also raises legitimate concerns about the violation of the rights of ATR practitioners,” the statement signed by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, asserted.
HURIWA emphasized that the call for the establishment of a National Shrine is not an isolated one but is rooted in a longstanding historical grievance about the systematic marginalization of Indigenous religions in Nigeria, such as the declaration of religious holidays for only Muslims and Christians and the establishment of Pilgrims boards for the two foreign religions, which encourages travel and tourism to foreign jurisdictions while neglecting local tourism.
HURIWA strongly believes that the consistent neglect of Indigenous religions in favor of promoting foreign ones infringes upon the rights of ATR adherents and undermines the secular nature of the nation.
“The situation is further complicated by Nigeria’s historical inclusion in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a move initiated during the era of the military regime under Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. This decision erroneously positioned Nigeria as an Islamic state, adding to the historical marginalization of Indigenous religions.
“We are presently in consultation with like-minded cultural activists and religious organizations to create awareness and advocate for the government to establish a National Shrine, thereby addressing the persistent issues of religious discrimination. If the government fails to take necessary corrective measures to ensure religious inclusivity and equal support for ATR, HURIWA is fully prepared to take legal action to challenge these violations of the religious rights of ATR adherents.”
HURIWA further revealed that it is actively working on letters addressed to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and the Minister of Culture, imploring them to take immediate steps to rectify these violations and promote religious inclusivity in Nigeria, stressing that it is time for Indigenous religions, which have been an integral part of the nation’s cultural and religious heritage, to receive the recognition and support they rightfully deserve.