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US Senators seek Nigeria’s designation as CPC for religious intolerance

By Leo Sobechi, Abuja
02 July 2022   |   2:40 am
Five members of the United States Senate, namely, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, have challenged the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken,

[FILES] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during meeting with Nigerian Vice President at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 18, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP)

Five members of the United States Senate, namely, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, have challenged the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

The senators expressed regret that recent high-profile acts of violence underscore the intense religious persecution that is regularly experienced by Nigerian Christians, adding that “religious violence and intolerance directed toward Nigerian Christians has worsened in recent years.”

In a letter dated June 29, 2022, signed by the five US lawmakers and addressed to the Secretary of State, they reminded Blinken that “last year, you inexplicably removed Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).”

While noting the lack of demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions, the Senators stated: “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.”

Itemizing instances of religious violence in Nigeria, the US senators remarked: “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…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.”

The senators said one report documented more than 4, 650 cases of Nigerian Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021, adding, “Accordingly, Nigeria earns the dubious honour-for the second consecutive year of being the deadliest country on earth for Christians.”

Urging swift action “on this important matter,” the lawmakers told Blinken: “The State Department released its 2021 report on International Religious Freedom on June 2, which starts the 90-day timeline for the department to make its religious freedom designations.

“Given the abysmal state of religious freedom in Nigeria, it is incumbent upon you to reverse last year’s decision and re-designate the country as a CPC. The moment demands that you do so without delay.

“Despite public statements from you and other State Department officials condemning the recent bloodshed in Nigeria, the fact remains that the Department still does not officially regard Nigeria as a severe violator of religious freedom.”

They reminded the Secretary of State that “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.

“This is unacceptable, especially because you are required by federal law to consider the recommendation of USCIRF-which, since 2009, has been to designate Nigeria as a CPC. In fact, USCIRF reiterated in its 2022 Annual Report that it was ‘appalled’ at the removal of Nigeria’s CPC designation.”

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