Nigerian Christians have been left ‘feeling abandoned’ after Nigeria was removed from the US State government’s list of Countries of Particular Concern after just one year. But the situation in the country has not changed at all as violence continues to spread.
Nigeria has been removed from the United States government’s list of the world’s worst religious freedom violators after being on the list for only a year. But this is not good news, as there has been no change in the factors that caused Nigeria to make the list last year.
More Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in the rest of the world combined
According to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the decision to take Nigeria off the list was ‘based on facts’. Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari in return ‘expressed the country's appreciation noting that there was freedom of worship in Nigeria, and no-one is discriminated against based on his or her faith’. Sadly, as Open Doors supporters will know, this is not reflected in the experiences of Christians in Nigeria; more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in the rest of the world combined.
Every year, the United States Department of State publishes its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) that – by their estimation – engage in ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom’. This designation allows for the government to impose sanctions.
“The situation on the ground has only deteriorated this past year... No one is safe any longer”Illia Djadi
The decision was ‘highly unexpected and not fact-based’, says Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ Senior Analyst for Freedom of Religion or Belief in sub-Saharan Africa. He continues, “The situation on the ground has only deteriorated this past year. We have seen an explosion of violence across the whole country, from the killing of army generals to the kidnapping of clerics, women and school children. No one is safe any longer.”
Many of these attacks are motivated by religion and/or ethnicity, and Christian communities have been particularly affected by the expansion and intensification of the violence.
Only last month, armed men killed one Christian and kidnapped more than 60 during a church service in Kaduna state. “The change of position by the US government has left Nigerian Christians feeling abandoned. Christians have viewed the US as a partner and find this denial of very worrying persecution realities extremely disappointing,” Djadi says.
The Christian Association of Nigeria said in a statement it was ‘at a loss’ to see on what basis the US government decided to delist Nigeria ‘because all those factors that put Nigeria on the CPC list for the first time in 2020 are still there’.
In recent years, Islamist groups such as Boko Haram and ISWAP have expanded their territory in the northeast and armed bandits have continued to raid communities in the northwest. Meanwhile, Fulani militants have stepped up their attacks in the Middle Belt and reportedly are now also active in the south of the country.
“All those factors that put Nigeria on the CPC list for the first time in 2020 are still there”The Christian Association of Nigeria
The commission that advises the US government on how to advance international religious freedom says it is ‘appalled’ by the decision. “The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) finds it unexplainable that the US 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,” it says in a press release.
Nigerian believers urgently need our prayers as they take in this decision. We know that our God can do more than we ask or imagine. Please pray with our brothers and sisters in Nigeria that their painful reality would become visible to more world governments – especially their own.
Nigeria is currently 9th on the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian and is the country where Christians experience the most violence in the world.
You can make sure the voices of our Nigerian church family are heard by inviting your MP to the launch of the 2022 World Watch List on 19 January, where they will hear first-hand accounts of persecution from around the world and be equipped to advocate for freedom of religion or belief on behalf of persecuted Christians.
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