The U.S. government has removed Nigeria from its list of countries that violate religious freedom.
In doing so, the administration of President Joe Biden ignored the recommendation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The removal of Nigeria from the list was contained in a statement by Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State. The announcement came one day before Mr Blinken’s arrival in Nigeria for his Africa tour.
According to Mr Blinken, the challenges to religious freedom in the world today are “structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country.”
He noted that it demands sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo. They require the international community’s urgent attention, he said.
Mr Blinken announced Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
He also placed Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”
“Finally, I am designating al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern,” he said.
Mr Blinken in his statement noted that “the United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country,” adding that in far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.
Responding to the statement by Mr Blinken, USCIRF said “it finds it unexplainable that the U.S. Department of State did not redesignate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) and treated it as a country with no severe religious freedom violations.”
“While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza
The USCIRF, ‘an independent bipartisan U.S. federal government commission’ recommended CPC designation for all 10 countries announced by Mr Blinken in its 2021 Annual Report and also recommended that India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam be designated as CPCs.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Nigeria was added to the CPC after an indictment by the USCIRF in 2019.
This newspaper also reported how for the second time in a row, the U.S. last year designated Nigeria amongst Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) guilty of “egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Nigerian Govt Hails U.S.
The government of Nigeria has applauded the U.S. government for its decision to take Nigeria off the violator’s list, describing the decision as a “triumph of diplomacy and sagacity over hate-driven foreign policy, itself founded on false propaganda.”
“President Buhari is truly satisfied with the decision by the United States to remove Nigeria from that unwanted list of countries,” said a presidential assistant, Garba Shehu, in a statement.
Mr Shehu noted that there is freedom of worship in Nigeria, and no one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her faith.
Mr Shehu in his statement blamed the previous designation on ‘some extremist groups’ and the outlawed separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
“This sad and uncalled-for ban came on the heels of 12 months of lies by some extremist groups and the banned terrorist group the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB’s well-funded international media campaign.
“Nigeria should never have been on the list. It was included after paid right-wing American lobbyists were funded millions of dollars by IPOB to spread falsehoods and misinformation about Nigeria,” Mr Shehu said.