Five Senators of the United States of America (USA), have written the country’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, seeking the immediate re-listing of Nigeria on the religious intolerance country index following the Pentecost Sunday attack on a Catholic Church at Owo, Ondo state and the gruesome murder in Sokoto state of Miss Deborah Samuel by Islamic extremists for alleged blasphemy.
The Senators are Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James M. Inhofe and Tom Cotton.
In a letter dated June 29, 2022, and addressed to “The Honorable Antony Blinken Secretary, United States Department of State”, the Senators raised concern over the de-listing of Nigeria from the index of countries that are intolerant of Christians.
The senator said they had earlier warned against the action of the Secretary of State, Blinken, to de-list Nigeria from the index on the grounds that Christians in Nigeria are highly endangered.
They cited the Pentecost Sunday attack by terrorists suspected to be Islamic fundamentalists on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo in Ondo state, and the gruesome murder of a female student in Sokoto state, Deborah Samuel, as evidence that Nigeria was intolerant of Christians.
The letter argued that the freedom of religion in Nigeria had been threatened by the actions of terrorists, believed to have state backing, who are openly opposed to the practice of the Christian faith in the country.
According to the Senators, there has been no improvement in religious tolerance in Nigeria since the de-listing just as they asked that the United States government re-list Nigeria and further designate it as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)”.
The letter reads:
“Dear Secretary Blinken:
“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 become tantamount to a death sentence in many parts of Nigeria.
“Religious violence and intolerance directed toward Nigerian Christians have 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 honour—for the second consecutive year—of being the deadliest country on earth for Christians.
“We wrote last year that “[n]ot only has the government of Nigeria failed to take meaningful steps to mitigate such violence, but Nigerian authorities restrict and crack down on religious minorities and detain individuals indefinitely on blasphemy-related charges.” We remain concerned that the Nigerian government is failing to protect the religious freedom and basic safety of its Christian citizens. Furthermore, as this year’s annual reports from the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and your own Department make clear, Nigerian government authorities directly participate in the persecution of Christians, Muslims, and even non-theists, most notoriously through arrests and convictions under blasphemy laws. 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.” 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. USCIRF reiterated in its 2022 Annual Report that it was “appalled” at the removal of Nigeria’s CPC designation. 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.
“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 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.”