12/08/2020 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, released a statement on Monday, December 8, 2020, that “The United States is designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.’” Nigeria was first designated as a CPC in 2019 by the state department due to its treatment of the Shi’a community leader Ibrahim ZakZaky. ZakZaky has been in detention since 2015, despite a court ordering his release.
They also used the violence against Christian and Muslim community throughout the country in the designation decision. This violence against Christians may or may not include the violence by Fulani militants throughout the Middle Belt. Historically, the State Department has classified the Middle Belt violence as inter communal conflict. They have typically avoided placing any religious reasons on the conflict, following the narrative set out by the Nigerian government. This designation however is a good sign that the State Department is willing to understand the religious motivations behind this conflict.
Nigeria has denied all allegations of religious freedom violations though. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture released a statement in Abuja on Tuesdaywhere he said that the listing was a difference in opinion between the two nations. He continued with, “Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution. Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions.”
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