This is the first time the African country has been listed for religious freedom violations.
Tens of thousands of Nigerians have been murdered in recent decades “simply because of their Christian faith,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, expressing support for the recent designation by the United States of Nigeria as a “country of particular concern.”
The designation by the U.S. State Department recognizes that Nigeria is engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
It’s the first time Nigeria has ever been included on the State Department list of countries of particular concern. The African nation joins other CPCs such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. The annual list is developed under the Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The December 7 designation follows months of advocacy by the Knights of Columbus, which has long supported religious freedom worldwide.
“Nigeria’s Christians have suffered grievously at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups,” Anderson said. “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deserves credit for shining a light on these atrocities, which verge on genocide. The Christians of Nigeria, both Catholic and Protestant, deserve attention, recognition and relief now. Nigeria’s Christians should be able to live in peace and practice their faith without fear.”
There have been widespread reports of suffering by Nigeria’s Christians at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsman. These groups routinely target Christian communities, murdering the elderly and adult men, committing atrocities against women, and kidnapping children.
The latest atrocities in Nigeria include the kidnapping on Tuesday of a Catholic priest on his way to his father’s funeral. Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu was on his way to his village, Igboukwu in the state of Anambra, when armed men came out of the bush, blocked the priest’s car and forced him to get into the back of the car before speeding away, according to Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
In his annual report in August 2020, Anderson announced a new initiative focused on religious persecution in Nigeria to facilitate “greater attention by American diplomacy and humanitarian aid.”
Among the civil society groups providing direct input to State Department decision makers during the deliberation process for the CPC designation was the Institute for Ancient and Threatened Christianity (IATC), which was founded in early 2020 under a generous grant from the Knights of Columbus Charities. Included in the substantial body of evidence collected by IATC over the past year are several hundred video statements from the victims themselves. These statements were gathered from the full range of Christians of Northern Nigeria, both Protestant and Catholic. These statements have now created a substantive body of direct evidence regarding the atrocities committed against them and their faith.