Abuja — Nigeria has dismissed allegations reported by a local churchman to the United States that militants were only targeting Christian schools during a spate of kidnappings in the West African country.
Allegations made at the US Congress are attributed to Matthew Hassan Kukah, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of the northwest Sokoto.
The prominent leader is quoted as lamenting the persecution of Christians in Nigeria by Islamic extremist groups in the northern parts.
He blamed the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, for complicity after alleged failure to prosecute culprits and secure the release of hundreds of students held captive.
Garba Shehu, a media aide to Buhari, denounced the sentiments made during a virtual presentation with the US Congress in Washington.
"It is yet more troubling to hear a Churchman isolating one group for criticism purely on ethnic lines," the presidential spokesman said.
"With due respect to the esteemed position he holds, the Bishop's assertion that only Christian schools are being targeted by bandits or terrorists is not supported by the facts on the ground."
Sheu argued some students had been kidnapped by bandits of the same Islamic faith as those they abducted.
These students were recently kidnapped in Buhari's Katsina State homeland.
Islamists are also blamed for the kidnapping of 134 students of an Islamic school in Niger State.
The same radicals are allegedly behind the kidnapping of over 100 predominantly Muslim students of a government girls' college in Kebbi State.
Most students in these kidnappings remain hostage.
"The attack on Christian students is sad and unacceptable; so also is the abduction of students of other faiths," Shehu said.
He therefore said the claim that only Christian schools were targeted was untrue.
"As a nation and a people, we must together define evil as evil," Shehu said.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country (estimated at 211 million), is divided roughly in half between Muslims, mostly in the north, and Christians, in the south.