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A Nigerian bishop criticized the U.S. State Department for removing Nigeria from its list of religious freedom violators.
Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications and head of communications for Africa, said that religious persecution in Nigeria has actually increased in the last two years, reported La Croix International.
“I was quite surprised to read of Nigeria’s exclusion from the list of designations for State and non-State religious freedom violators because there is nothing on the ground to suggest that Christians have an easier time practicing their faith in Nigeria today than they did one or two years ago,” Badejo said.
The bishop’s statements came after more than 50 Catholics were killed during Pentecost Sunday Mass on June 5, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church of Ondo State, in southwestern Nigeria.
Nigerian Interior Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola said on Thursday that the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is suspected to be the group responsible for the attack. Some news reports suggested that Fulani herdsmen may have been responsible.
Nigeria removed from list of religious freedom violators
In 2020 Nigeria was designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) in the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report. In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act, Nigeria was placed on the list “for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
That report cited the Nigerian government’s failure to act against terrorist acts against Christians perpetrated by Boko Haram, ISIS, and Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
In November of 2021, Nigeria was removed from the list by the State Department, sparking an outcry from religious freedom watchdog groups.
When Nigeria was not redesigned as a CPC, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement criticizing the State Department’s omission of Nigeria among the religious freedom violators.
“USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”
Nigerian extremism worsens
In his statement Bishop Badejo argued that religious persecution has only gotten worse since the U.S. removed Nigeria from its watchlist.
“Things have not gotten any better because extremists seem to be gaining even more territory in the North-Eastern Nigeria and the kidnapping of Christian students and members have actually increased in the last year,” he said.
Bishop Badejo said that “the scope of persecution is wide and cross cutting, involving the rape and forced marriage of Christian girls, promulgation of policies and privileges that exclude Christians and also forced conversions.”.
He accused the U.S. of letting “politics of interest” play too large a role in its decision-making.
The U.S. State Department, he said, is “consulting with the wrong people or pursuing rather in Nigeria, some interest that does not represent the suffering people of Nigeria.”
Bishop Badejo urged the “The United States to revisit that decision and play the politics of reality rather than politics of interest, in order to save the credibility of its listing because it is clearly premature and even downright insincere.”
The United States should “activate its well-recognized facility to consult with the concerned people and institutions on matters that concern the welfare of Christians and marginalized groups of Nigeria and avoid following the lead of vested and political interests,” he said.
Religious freedom violators
Secretary of State Blinken’s list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) released in November of 2021 included: Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua were named to the “Special Watch List.”