Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley of the United States have written to President Joe Biden to relist Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” due to the escalating violence against Christians in the country.
Three senators, Mike Braun, Tom Cotton, and Jim Inhofe, in addition to the two Republican congressmen who authored the letter, also signed it.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senators requested President Biden to restore Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act immediately.
US senators noted that religious violence remains high in Nigeria, which had been placed on the list of nations of particular concern with regard to religious violence by the administration of President Donald Trump but has since been removed by the administration of Vice President Joe Biden.
The letter, which was also published on Senator Rubio’s official website, reads: “As you are well aware, Nigerian Christians have been the victims of horrendous acts of violence in recent weeks, including the killing of churchgoers on Pentecost Sunday and the stoning of a Christian college student. Unfortunately, Christians in Africa’s most populous nation are all too accustomed with such atrocities.
“However, last year you lifted Nigeria’s status as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) despite no proven improvement in religious freedom conditions in the country. In fact, the situation in Nigeria has deteriorated. We earlier encouraged you to swiftly overturn your erroneous judgement, and today we are writing to reiterate our request.
Recent high-profile acts of violence highlight the harsh religious persecution that Nigerian Christians often face. On Pentecost Sunday, gunmen reportedly assaulted the St. Francis Catholic Church in the Nigerian state of Ondo, killing at least fifty worshippers.
“Last month, a rowdy mob savagely stoned to death a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in northwest Nigeria, Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu. According to accounts, several Islamist students were outraged by a “blasphemous” statement posted by Deborah in a WhatsApp group, in which she said, “Jesus Christ is the greatest. He assisted me in passing my tests. In many regions of Nigeria, even proclaiming one’s Christian beliefs has apparently become equivalent to a death sentence.
In recent years, religious violence and intolerance towards Nigerian Christians have increased. More than 4,650 Nigerian Christians were slain for their beliefs in 2021, according to a research. For the second year in a row, Nigeria holds the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous country on earth for Christians.
We noted last year that “not only has the government of Nigeria failed to take effective action to reduce such violence, but Nigerian authorities limit religious minorities and jail individuals indefinitely on blasphemy charges. The Nigerian government’s failure to defend the religious liberty and fundamental safety of its Christian population continues to cause us concern.
“Additionally, as this year’s annual reports from the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and from your own Department make clear, Nigerian government authorities participate directly in the persecution of Christians, Muslims, and even non-theists, most notoriously through arrests and convictions under blasphemy laws. In no uncertain terms, the continuous execution of state-sanctioned blasphemy laws facilitates the type of lethal violence that killed Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu and so many others.
“When we previously wrote to you, we did not receive an explanation to our inquiries concerning why the State Department considers Nigeria to have neither committed nor allowed “systematic, continuous, and egregious abuses of religious freedom” or “serious violations of religious freedom.” This is unacceptable, especially considering that federal law requires you to adopt USCIRF’s recommendation, which, since 2009, has been to classify Nigeria as a CPC. In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF reaffirmed that it was “appalled” by the revocation of Nigeria’s CPC classification. Despite your and other State Department officials’ public statements denouncing the recent carnage in Nigeria, the Department still does not formally view Nigeria as a significant violation of religious freedom.
“On June 2, the State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, initiating the 90-day period during which the Department will make its religious freedom designations. Given the appalling situation of religious freedom in Nigeria, you are obligated to reconsider last year’s decision and reclassify the country as a CPC. It is imperative that you act immediately.”