President Muhammadu Buhari

By Biodun Busari

Five American senators have asked the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to re-designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern (CPC).

In December 2020, the US listed Nigeria among the countries blacklisted for “violating religious freedom” under the CPC designation.

However, in November 2021, the country was removed from the list.

In a statement dated June 29, 2022 obtained by Vanguard on Friday, the American lawmakers queried why Nigeria was “inexplicably” removed “despite no demonstrable improvement in the country’s religious freedom conditions.”

They referred to the attack on worshippers of St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo state and the killing of Deborah Samuel, a female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, as cases of “religious persecutions” in Nigeria.

The senators who signed the letter are Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton.

The statement reads, “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,” the letter reads.

“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 apparently become tantamount to a death sentence in many parts of Nigeria. Religious violence and intolerance directed toward Nigerian Christians has 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 honor — for the second consecutive year — of being the deadliest country on earth for Christians.

“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.”

“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.”

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