In mid-November 2021, the Biden administration surprisingly removed Nigeria from the list of countries with religious freedom concerns. Now a group of Republican senators sent a letter to the president demanding explanations and pushing for its reinstatement.

Seven Republican lawmakers, led by Senator Josh Hawley, wrote a letter to Secretary Antony Blinken on Monday, Dec. 13, demanding that he reinstate Nigeria to a State Department list detailing countries where religious freedom is at risk, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China, among others.

In 2020, the Trump administration placed Nigeria on that list following intense attacks by terrorist groups against religious people. But interestingly, in November 2021, before Blinken visited Nigeria, the Biden administration released an updated list that omitted the African country. 

“While much of the violence in Nigeria overlaps with ethnic conflicts, hostility between ethnic groups is not solely to blame. Religious intolerance and persecution is a primary factor, and it is important that the State Department acknowledge that,” the letter reads.

“It is clear to us that religious freedom conditions in Nigeria have not seen consummate improvement to warrant this abrupt change in designation after such a brief period. Therefore, we urge the Department to immediately reconsider its decision and redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern,” the lawmakers go on to say.

The letter further demands that the administration publish valid arguments explaining the reasons for delisting Nigeria and whether these reasons have anything to do with the official visit of State Department officials to Nigeria in November.

Nigeria’s delisting prompted a wave of reactions from several human rights groups, including the Family Research Council, which also sent a letter with other organizations last week asking for explanations and requesting a reversal of the action.

The letter cites a Catholic News Agency report published in July, stating that at least 3,462 Christians are estimated to have been killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, equivalent to 17 Christians killed every day in Africa’s most populous country.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on the other hand, had recommended in April that Nigeria remain on the list, citing “violence by militant Islamists and other non-state armed actors, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state authorities” in the country.

The commission, which also recommended that India, Syria, and Vietnam be designated as countries of concern, said in a statement that it was “dismayed” by Nigeria’s expulsion.

Religious persecution in Nigeria

According to recent reports, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and Fulani jihadist herdsmen are reportedly the main perpetrators of the religious persecution of Christians in Nigeria.

Hundreds of churches are currently being threatened, burned, and destroyed. While the faithful are abducted by the dozens, many are crudely murdered in front of their families, and others die locked up in prisons without respect for their most basic rights.

In many regions of the country, terrorists operate freely under the cover and protection of the security forces; kidnapping, killing, looting, destroying or burning, and forcibly converting their captive and unprotected Christians and their homes and sacred places of worship and learning.

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