Biden and Blinken ‘Turning a Blind Eye’ to Religious Persecution in Nigeria 

Thousands of Christians are being killed or abducted in the African nation every year.

AP/Sunday Alamba
The Iyaoloja of Owo kingdom, Funmilayo Iwaloye, at a protest following the attack at the St. Francis Catholic Church at Owo, Nigeria, June 7, 2022. AP/Sunday Alamba

Last week, the Department of State released its annual list of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom. Yet missing for the second year in a row? Nigeria.

Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian, particularly in the Muslim-majority northern states. From January 2021 to March 2022, more than 6,000 Christians were murdered for their faith, more than those in all other countries combined. 

Attacks from terrorist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State-West Africa Province, as well as other armed militants, disproportionately target Christians, although they also kill Muslims who refuse to bow to terror.

Every year, the State Department releases a list of the worst violators of religious freedom worldwide, called the Country of Particular Concern list. Countries like China, Iran, and Pakistan are regularly called out for their egregious actions towards religious minorities. The Country of Particular Concern list is the most powerful tool the American government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.

Leaving off Nigeria for two years in a row despite the increases in violence in the country and the laws that harm Christians and religious minorities is deeply irresponsible. In 2020, Secretary of State Pompeo added Nigeria to the CPC list for the first time after sustained advocacy made it impossible to ignore how Nigeria had failed to protect Christians being slaughtered in the country. 

Yet when State Secretary Blinken removed Nigeria from the watchlist in 2021 without any explanation, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom called the decision “appalling,” while advocates described it as a “baffling error.”

After the State Department’s failure again on Friday to designate Nigeria, the commission said it was “outraged” and “tremendously disappointed” by the decision.

The facts in Nigeria speak for themselves. In addition to the thousands of Christians being killed for their faith, one estimate shows at least 3,800 Christians were abducted in Nigeria in 2021 alone.

Earlier this year, the world watched in horror as images spread throughout international media of an attack against St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria, during a Pentecost Sunday service. 

Dozens were killed during the “Pentecost Massacre” in one of the most high-profile single attacks targeting Christians in the country’s history. The Catholic Bishop of the church, Jude Arogundade, called the attack “an act of genocide.”

Yet the violence and the lack of any effective government response are not the only religious freedom problems in Nigeria. Nigeria is one of only 7 countries in the world to allow for the death penalty for allegations of “blasphemy” against Islam. 

One young man, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi musician, was sentenced to death by hanging for posting song lyrics peacefully expressing his religious beliefs on social media, which others took as insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. He is currently challenging the death penalty blasphemy laws at the Nigerian Supreme Court.

In May, a Christian student, Deborah Yakubu, was viciously beaten and stoned to death, and her body burnt, after she was accused of blasphemy by her classmates when she thanked Jesus for helping her to pass her exams on a social media thread. 

The security forces did little to stop the mob that killed her. Only two of her attackers have been arrested and neither of them were charged with murder, but instead charged only with disturbing the peace. Mobs in Sokoto even rioted when her attackers were arrested, demanding the police release them.

Another Christian woman, Rhoda Jatau, is currently facing trial for blasphemy because she reposted a video on social media condemning the attack on Yakubu. Christian converts are regularly accused of apostasy from Islam and related offenses in the country’s sharia courts.

With all these atrocities occurring in Nigeria, the failure of the Biden Administration to simply follow the facts makes no sense. A letter signed by dozens of religious freedom organizations and experts last year said, “for years, the Nigerian government has done virtually nothing to stop this violence,” and that the removal of Country of Particular Concern status sent “the wrong message to governments around the world who engage in or tolerate egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Mr. Blinken’s continued denial of Nigeria as an egregious violator of religious freedom in the world also ignores the pleas of many senators. Senators have repeatedly written to Mr. Blinken calling for Nigeria to “immediately” be placed back on the concern list. Additionally, there is a petition signed by more than 40,000 individuals calling on the Biden Administration to cease “turning a blind eye” to what is going on in Nigeria.

It is clear that Nigeria should be considered one of the worst places for religious freedom in the world. America is supposed to be a beacon to the world when it comes to protecting our fundamental freedoms. It is a dereliction of duty that Mr. Blinken continues to look the other way at what is happening to Christians and others in Nigeria.

This article was originally published by RealClearReligion and made available via RealClearWire.

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