Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Linda Burkle, PhD

Recently, International Christian Concern (ICC) designated Nigeria as one of the worst countries in the world for persecution of Christians. On December 10 ,2021 ICC posted a video narrated by President Jeff King featuring a Nigerian village which had recently been attacked, leaving ten dead and several homes burned.[1] ICC estimates 50,000 to more than 70,000 Christians have died in violent attacks in Nigeria over 18 years, mostly carried out by Boko Haram terrorists, Fulani militants, and other groups. [2] Nigeria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian,”stated international human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe. “It is high time this is recognized.”[3] 

 A study by the U.S.-based Christian persecution monitoring group Open Doors found that more than 2,200 of 4,761 Christians killed around the world in 2020 died in Nigeria because of radical Islamists. This number is increasing each year at an alarming rate; the number of Christians killed in 2020 increased by 60%, primarily because of Islamist violence. Nigeria moved up from a ranking of 12th worst persecuting country in 2019 to 9th worst in 2021 on the Open Doors World Watch List.[4] “At least 3,462 Christians, including ten priests or pastors, were murdered in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021”, nearly reaching the number murdered during the entire year of 2020.”[5]  

Perhaps the most scathing report on persecution in Nigeria came from within Nigeria itself. The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, reporting from Nigeria, said that in addition to the brutal killings of Christians, “some 3,000 Christians, many of them young girls and women, have been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and their whereabouts remains unknown. . . at least three out of every ten kidnapped Christians have been killed. At a structural level, close to 300 churches were threatened or attacked and closed or destroyed or burnt since January 2021. Those responsible for the anti-Christian ‘butcheries’ in the country have continued to evade justice and remained unchecked, untracked, uninvestigated and untried; leading to impunity and repeat atrocities. They also argue that the government has completely ‘abandoned’ the victims, those who have survived attacks with lasting physical and mental scars, and their families. The country’s security forces have so fumbled and compromised that they hardly intervene when the vulnerable Christians are in danger of threats or attacks, but only emerge after such attacks to arrest and frame up the same population threatened or attacked,’ the society found.” [6]  

In 2020, based on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. State Department designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) due to increasingly severe violations of religious freedom.[7] In 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria from the State Department’s CPC list just three days prior to his diplomatic trip to Nigeria to meet with the Nigerian President on November 18,2021. No explanation was given for this action, which has been met with dismay and consternation by various human rights groups that view this move as a strategic victory for Nigeria’s authoritarian government. Although Boko Haram and ISSWAP continue to be designated as Entities of Particular Concern, by removing the CPC designation from Nigeria itself, the State Department is essentially removing the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.[8]   

The fact that the State Department did not adopt USCIRF’s recommendations is disappointing. 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,”  stated USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”[9] 

According to Franklyne Ogbumwezeh of Genocide Prevention in Africa at Christian Solidarity International, over 40 religious organizations from around the world collectively signed an appeal in August for the relisting of Nigeria over rising religious violations. On November 19, Ogbumwezeh stated on Arise TV, “Blinken’s visit has been a strategic win for the Buhari government and a very tragic day for human rights.” [10] 

Some former diplomats see Blinken’s move as a political move to appease an important African partner and “revenge of the bureaucracy” at the State Department. They view the decision as inconsistent with administration’s claim to uphold human rights in foreign policy decisions. Frank Wolf, a former Republican Congressman, stated “It’s a victory for the terrorists—it’s a defeat for anyone concerned with human rights and religious freedom.” While serving in Congress, Wolf was a chief architect of the International Religious Freedom Act, a piece of legislation aimed to protect religious freedom. [11] 

On December 14, 2021, seven Republican Senators sent a letter to Secretary Antony Blinken urging the State Department to reinstate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern given the severe and violent religious freedom violations. “We find this development alarming given Nigeria’s appalling record,”wrote Senators. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., James Lankford, R-Okla., Kevin Kramer, R-N.D., Mike Braun, R-Ind., James Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The letter questioned the timing of and rationales for the removal as well as the political motives behind it. [12]  

The current situation of Nigerian Christians is a crisis of violence and victimization. It must never be dismissed for political advantage or diplomatic expediency. The U.S. has an opportunity and responsibility to leverage resources and engagement with Nigeria conditioned upon their protection of Christians. Along with human rights advocates around the world, I join in urging Secretary Blinken to designate Nigeria once again as a Country of Particular Concern. 

Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019 where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Dr. Burkle has worked with persecuted peoples in a number of countries, and her dissertation focused on religious persecution; specifically regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China, and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska. She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.

  6. Ibid. 
  8. The Epoch Times, November 23-31, 2021. US Edition, No 383. “Rights Groups Criticize US No Longer Listing Nigeria as Violator of Religious Freedom”  
  10. The Epoch Times, November 23-31, 2021. US Edition, No 383. “Rights Groups Criticize US No Longer Listing Nigeria as Violator of Religious Freedom”