Josephine Adaza: fighting for freedom of religion in Nigeria

People belonging to religious minority communities in Nigeria are often the target of attacks, according to 35-year-old Josephine Adaza, who is a member of the Christian minority in Northern Nigeria.

“We need to protect minority rights in order to prevent further loss of lives,” she says.  

In the north of Nigeria, Christians make up approximately five percent of the total population, says Josephine. “Our story is not just about religion, but also about the land.” She explains that since the introduction of the sharia law in 12 northern states, many Christians have been internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries, such as Chad and Cameroon.

Josephine recently participated in the five-week Minorities Fellowship Programme of the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva. Since the launch of the Programme in 2005, people belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities are given the opportunity to learn about the UN system, human rights instruments and mechanisms with minority rights as a key component.

At the end of the training programme, the Minority Fellows also participated in the 6th session of the Forum on Minority Issues which this year focused on "Beyond freedom of religion or belief: Guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities". The Forum holds thematic discussions annually on best practices, challenges and opportunities for the further implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of People Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

“The UN Human Rights Office’s Minorities Fellowship Programme has been a learning process for me. Before, I didn’t know how UN mechanisms can help convey messages” Josephine says. “There are so many ways we can express ourselves without resorting to violence. We have to be diplomatic.”

In Josephine’s final presentation she highlighted the need for political representation of Christians, as well as other minority groups in Nigeria.

Josephine, who works for the Christian NGO, the Joshua Generation Foundation and Youth Development, explained that despite the tremendous degree of ethno-linguistic diversity in Nigeria, involving over 500 languages, only three languages dominate the political sphere.

She says that as a result, 11 minority languages in Nigeria no longer exist, including the language of her ancestors. According to Josephine, this fact places greater emphasis on the importance to safeguard rights of religious minorities.

Jospehine plans to use the knowledge she acquired during the Fellowship Programme in order to promote dialogue between the Government and a full range of religious minorities to ensure that existing laws which protect freedom of religion are implemented.   

31 January 2014

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