The latest removal of Nigeria as a “Country of Special Concerns” by the US Department of State has sparked outrage among human rights groups around the globe.
All the Usual Suspects are there, but Nigeria Sits High and Dry
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken mentioned China, Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajik, and Turkmenistan as nations of significant concern, prior to his Nov. 18 visit to Nigeria.
The secretary of state identifies a country as a source of serious religious freedom abuses. Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua were also added to the US shortlist for freedom of religion on Nov. 18 by Blinken.
Nonetheless, on Sept. 26, Muslim extremists were accused of slaughtering 38 Christians in Nigeria’s Madama town, and on Oct. 31, a whole Baptist church was abducted.
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has called for the dismissal, arrest, and trial of the Minister Lai Mohammed for alleged falsehood about the Lekki tollgate shootings pic.twitter.com/dRUvaVeITq
— Naija (@Naija_PR) November 16, 2021
In a Nov. 17 announcement on religious liberty classifications, Blinken said, “The obstacles to freedom of religion in the globe today are fundamental, systematic, and firmly ingrained.”
“They demand a long-term worldwide dedication from all who refuse to accept bigotry, intolerance, and oppression as the norm,” he stated. While Blinken’s declaration did not specifically mention Nigeria, religious liberty proponents in Nigeria believe it accurately described the nation’s scenario.
“In far too many areas around the globe, we proceed to see various governments brutalize, arrest, endanger, jail, and kill people simply for trying to seek to live their lives in conformity with the principles.”
Blinken Seems Oblivious
On November 19, Blinken was questioned by Channels TV in Nigeria.
While he acknowledged the subject of police brutality against protestors in Lagos during October, opponents pointed out he didn’t even mention the continuing killings of Christians in northern Nigeria.
Human rights advocates have expressed shock at the removal of Nigeria from this year’s State Department list of countries with the most egregious religious freedom violations. https://t.co/6uMmLKpLqZ
— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) November 18, 2021
In 2020, the Trump administration placed Nigeria on the CPC listing for the first time. The withdrawal from Blinken went against the advice of the US Council on International Freedom of religion (USCIRF), which urged the nation to be put back up.
Blinken’s failure to redesignate Nigeria is “inexplicable.” USCIRF is particularly dissatisfied with Nigeria’s withdrawal from the CPC classification, which it deserved last year, as well as the exclusion of India, Syria, and the Vietnamese.
“USCIRF is unhappy the Department of State did not follow our suggestions in recognizing the nations that violate freedom of religion the most,” Maenza added.
“In August, upwards of 40 religious institutions from around the world signed an appeal calling for Nigeria to be relisted due to escalating religious breaches,” Franklyn Ogbunwezeh, a senior researcher and director for Conflict Prevention in Africa at Christian Unity Worldwide.
Ogbunwezeh sees the action as a win for autocracy as well. “Blinken’s visit has been a tactical triumph for the Buhari administration, and a very unfortunate day for Nigerian civil rights,” Ogbunwezeh remarked on Arise TV on November 19.