Kola Alapinni receives US Dept. of State 2024 International Religious Freedom Award. Photo credit/John Gongwer

Nigerian Lawyer Kola Alapinni Recipient of 2024 International Religious Freedom Award

In recognition of 25 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was signed by President Clinton on October 27, 1998, the Secretary of State held a special event to acknowledge the Department’s 2024 International Religious Freedom Award recipients. The following individuals were recognized for their courage and commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom globally: Farid Ahmed, Kola Alapinni, Mirza Dinnayi, Peter Jacob, Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, Tali Nates, Lhadon Tethong, and a group of nine Orthodox clergy from Lithuania represented by Gintaras Sungaila.  These advocates have focused on promoting human rights and mutual respect for all in countries including Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, and Nicaragua, as well as protecting the rights of Orthodox Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of other religious communities around the world.

U.S. Dept. of State 2024 IRF Award recipients

Kola Alapinni is an international human rights lawyer who has provided legal defense in multiple freedom of religion or belief cases and and he has challenged the constitutionality of Nigerian blasphemy laws. He holds a master’s degree in international human rights law from the Essex Law School in the United Kingdom.

Alapinni is the leading defense counsel in two prominent blasphemy cases in Kano, Northern Nigeria. In the first case, a Sharia court in Kano sentenced a minor, Omar Farouq Bashir, to 10 years in prison but released him on appeal after Alapinni intervened. The second case concerns Muslim singer Yahaya Shariff Aminu who was sentenced to death by the same Kano court and whose appeal is pending with the Nigerian Supreme Court.

Alapinni and his team went to Kano and provided pro bono legal representation to Farouq and Sharif, despite considerable risk to themselves. In taking on these controversial cases, Alapinni demonstrates his profound dedication to justice and religious freedom despite the inherent risks of violence.

ADF’s Sean Nelson and 21Wilberforce’s John Gongwer congratulate Kola Alapinni and his attorney wife Jola on Kola’s receipt of the State Department’s 2024 International Religious Freedom Award.

John Gongwer, Executive Director of 21Wilberforce, attended the award ceremony at the State Department in support of Kola Alapinni. Kola serves as an advisor for 21Wilberforce’s Global Freedom Network Africa. He is also collaborating with 21Wilberforce to train and mentor young lawyers in Nigeria to defend religious freedom.

“Nigeria has a national constitution guaranteeing religious freedom for all and has signed numerous international agreements affirming these basic human rights. Despite all its rhetoric about commitment to human rights, Nigeria permits religious persecution of minorities and Islamic courts to imprison and sentence to death individuals whose beliefs and exercise of their religious rights offend the Islamic judges and their sectarian supporters. Nigerian attorneys who visit prisoners and actively defend the accused in court and the media are themselves subject to harassment and violence, said John Gongwer. ” Kola Alapinni is a rare human rights defender who risks his own security to defend these victims and actively challenge the unjust laws that suppress or violates these rights. We applaud Kola’s work on behalf of voiceless victims and continue to support his and others’ efforts to achieve justice for all in Nigeria.”

In Nigeria, Kola’s courageous struggle for religious freedom is a powerful reminder of the tireless pursuit of justice and the human spirit, offering hope for a world in which tolerance and respect for diversity are valued.