Again, the United States has excluded Nigeria from its list of religious freedom violations despite the extensive persecution and killings of Christians in the West African country.
The latest annual religious freedom watch list was released by the State Department in a statement by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on January 4 in Washington.
In the statement, Blinken said, “Advancing the freedom of religion or belief has been a core objective of U.S. foreign policy ever since Congress passed and enacted the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998.
“As part of that enduring commitment, I have designated Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, the DPRK, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
“In addition, I have designated Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam as Special Watch List countries for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.”
The Secretary also designated some groups across the world as “Entities of Concern.”
“Finally, I have designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houths, ISIS-Sahel, ISIS-West Africa, al-Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern,” he said in the statement.
Blinken, however, said significant violations of religious freedom also occurred in countries that were not designated.
He said governments must end abuses such as attacks on members of religious minority communities and their places of worship, communal violence and lengthy imprisonment for peaceful expression, transnational repression, and calls to violence against religious communities among other violations that occur in too many places around the world.
Blinken noted that the challenges to religious freedom across the globe are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched, adding “but with thoughtful, sustained commitment from those who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo we will one day see a world where all people live with dignity and equality.”
Nigeria removed from list in 2021
Nigeria was added to the CPC list during the Trump administration after it was indicted by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for religious violations.
However, the Biden administration removed the country from the list the following year.
Blinken had announced Nigeria’s removal from the list in November 2021 about two years after the country and six other countries were placed on the U.S. special watch list by the Trump administration.
Some groups and individuals canvassed the return of Nigeria following the rise in cases of persecution and killings of Christians.
Killings and persecution of Christians in Nigeria
In recent times, there has been an upsurge in the persecution and killings of Christians in the country.
In fact, the new list came barely two weeks after nearly 200 Christians were massacred and over 300 injured in some communities in Plateau State, North Central Nigeria, on the eve of Christmas.
Also, Christian Rhoda Jatau, in Bauchi, North East Nigeria, was recently granted bail after she was detained for about 19 months for alleged blasphemy.
Mrs Jatau was accused of sharing a video on WhatsApp condemning the lynching of another Christian and student of Sokoto College of Education, Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, earlier in May 2022.
In June 2022, gunmen had invaded St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, South West Nigeria, and massacred about 40 worshippers and injured over 60 others. No group claimed responsibility though there reports that some of the masterminds were arrested several months after.
Several Christians were at various times kidnapped with some losing their lives in the process while others were lucky to return alive.
Open Door in its latest report released last week ranked Nigeria sixth among 50 countries of the world where it is difficult to follow Jesus.
The U.S-based Christian watch dog said an average of 13 Christians were killed daily in Nigeria for the faith in 2023, making the country the deadliest among the countries.
“Thirteen Christians a day were killed for their faith in 2023, on average. Nigeria remains the deadliest place to follow Jesus; 82% of killings happened here. Violence only eased during Nigeria’s election, which accounted for a drop in the number of Christians killed compared to 2022,” Open Doors said.
Also, earlier this year, the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported after a study that Nigeria led other countries where about 132 Catholic priests and religious figures were either arrested, abducted or killed.
Outrage over fresh list
Several religious groups have kicked against the new list just as they demanded its review to include Nigeria where there have been extensive persecution and killings of Christians for their faith.
Global Religious Freedom for ADF International expressed disappointment that Nigeria was left out of the list.
“We are disappointed and deeply concerned that the Biden Administration again failed to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom,” the group’s Legal Counsel, Sean Nelson, said.
“The United States should increase pressure on Nigeria for the blatant violations of religious freedom occurring in the country. More Christians are being killed in Nigeria for their faith than in all other countries combined.
“The U.S. government should do everything within its power to support ending the persecution and bringing about the peaceful coexistence of faith communities in Nigeria.
“Since it is clear that the State Department will not take significant action over the terrible religious freedom conditions in Nigeria, it is vital that Congress makes its voice heard.”
USCIRF said it had included Nigerian in its own report and statement on countries of worst religious offenders wondering why the State Department excluded West African country from the list of countries of concern.
According to a statement by its Chair, Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair, Frederick Davie, the commission demanded a congressional hearing on “the failure of the State Department to follow our recommendations” concerning Nigeria.
They said “there is no justification as to why the State Department did not designate Nigeria….as a Country of Particular Concern, despite its own reporting and statements.”
They cited the Christmas eve killings in Plateau State, North Central Nigeria as “the latest example of deadly violence against religious communities in Nigeria that even the State Department has condemned.”
“The majority of Commissioners have travelled to Nigeria and noted the threats to freedom of religion or belief and the deadly implications to religious communities,” they USCIRF further stated.