…as US senators ask Biden, write Blinken to redesignate Nigeria ‘religious freedom violator’
Nigeria may have run into a fresh trouble in the international arena over the recent killing of worshippers at the Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State by yet-to-be-identified gunmen.
On Friday, five American Senators urged the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken to re-designate Nigeria as a Vountry of Particular Concern (CPC).
The US had in December 2020 listed Nigeria among countries blacklisted for “violating religious freedom” under the CPC designation.
But in November 2021, the country was removed from the list.
But the US Senators in a June 29, 2022 letter, querried why Nigeria was “inexplicably” removed “despite no demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions.”
The US lawmakers cited the attack on St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State and the lynching and burning of Deborah Samuel, a female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, as cases of “religious persecutions” in Nigeria.
The American senators who signed the letter are Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton.
According to the US Senators’ letter, “As you are well aware, horrific acts of deadly violence have been committed against Nigerian Christians in recent weeks, including the massacre of churchgoers on Pentecost Sunday and the stoning of a Christian college student. Sadly, such violence has become all too familiar for Christians in Africa’s most populous country.
“Last year, however, you inexplicably removed Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) despite no demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions.
“On the contrary, the situation in Nigeria has grown worse. We previously urged you to immediately reverse your misguided decision, and we write today to renew our call.
“Recent high-profile acts of violence underscore the intense religious persecution that is regularly experienced by Nigerian Christians.
“On Pentecost Sunday, gunmen attacked St. Francis Catholic Church in Nigeria’s Ondo state, reportedly killing at least 50 churchgoers.
“Last month, a violent mob brutally stoned to death Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in northwest Nigeria.
“According to reports, some Islamist students were enraged by a “blasphemous” message Deborah had posted in a WhatsApp group, in which she said that “Jesus Christ is the greatest. He helped me pass my exams.
“Merely expressing one’s Christian faith has apparently become tantamount to a death sentence in many parts of Nigeria. Religious violence and intolerance directed toward Nigerian Christians has worsened in recent years.
“One report documented more than 4,650 cases of Nigerian Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021. Accordingly, Nigeria earns the dubious honor — for the second consecutive year — of being the deadliest country on earth for Christians.
“Make no mistake: continued enforcement of state-sanctioned blasphemy laws enables the type of deadly violence that killed Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu and so many others.
“When we previously wrote you, we were met with a response which failed to answer our questions about why the State Department views Nigeria as not having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” or even “severe violations of religious freedom.”
“Given the abysmal state of religious freedom in Nigeria, it is incumbent upon you to reverse last year’s decision and redesignate the country as a CPC. The moment demands that you do so without delay. We look forward to your swift action on this important matter.”