On Monday, December 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Nigeria has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). In his comments, Secretary Pompeo revealed that Africa’s largest nation, along with Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan received the designation: “for tolerating, ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion.'”
This is the first time ever that the State Department has included Nigeria on this list of nations with most egregious religious freedom violations since the CPC creation with the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. Before now it has been on the State Department’s “Special Watch List” even though the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s own designations labeled it as a CPC country.
IRD’s International Religious Liberty Program is grateful to Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and President Donald J. Trump for acknowledging the extreme severity of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. We commend them for a decision that goes against the prevailing false narrative that claims that the genocidal conditions in Nigeria are a mere clash between herdsmen and farmers.
Because of our close ties to the Anglican Church of Nigeria, IRD has been acutely aware of the plight of the nation’s Christians for decades. Long before Boko Haram appeared on the scene, we were engaged in advocacy for Christians in the country’s northern and middle belt states. In those areas Islamists were then imposing Sharia and Christians were attacked and killed on a regular basis.
But in recent years, Christians have had an ever more lethal foe, Boko Haram (and now its spin-off ISIS-related group, Islamic State in West African Province – ISWAP). And they have had to contend with the radicalization and weaponization of Fulani herdsmen/jihadists.
The renowned organization Genocide Watch provides horrifying statistics. They say that between 11,500 and 12,000 Christians have been massacred in Nigeria since June 2015. This was when the Buhari government came to power, with help from the Obama Administration. And the massacres continue. In the first six months of 2020, an additional 1202 Christians were killed, according to a July 15, 2020 article in The Christian Post.
IRD and our fellow advocates have declared that Nigeria is on the brink of genocide. Jubilee Campaign has published a report that declares that genocide is loading in Nigeria. And yet the false narrative of foreign policy elites continues. They deny that deliberate, orchestrated eradication of Christian communities is taking place. In fact, they echo the excuses of President Buhari himself.
Buhari was shocked when President Trump challenged him on the death of Christians. Buhari recently told reporters in Abuja that during his visit to Washington in April 2018 President Trump “privately asked why he was killing Christians.” The Nigerian President, who is himself a Fulani, denied the killings. He told Trump that there was “a problem between cattle rearers and stagnant farmers.” Sound familiar?
This is why it is doubly important that the State Department has formally designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. The CPC designation provides the United States with a menu of enforcement options. It grants the State Department the ability to exert real pressure on Nigeria if they do not immediately and effectively address the violence against religious communities and provide protection. But it is also important because it signals to Nigerian Christians and other communities being targeted by radical jihadists and ignored by their own government that their cries are heard and they are not alone.