The United States blacklisted Nigeria for the first time on Monday, 7th December, putting pressure on its ally as Christian groups express growing uncertainty. While Sudan unfortunately off the list, Eritrea is another African country on the list.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Nigeria “a country of particular concern” for religious freedom, a rare inclusion of a fellow Democrat in the US efforts to shame nations. “These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act,” wrote on Twitter, Pompeo, an evangelical Christian.
Adding Nigeria to the list for the first time paves the way for possible sanctions if there is no improvement in this area.
Mike Pompeo said the United States had designated Nigeria, which is an ally of the United States, as a “country of particular concern” under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act for religious freedom, for “engaging systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations”.
Nigeria now joins countries like China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia on the list. The other countries on the blacklist are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Sudan, which is transforming after decades of dictatorship, dropped out of the blacklist last year, and Pompeo took the country off the second tier list on Monday along with Uzbekistan.
Violence in Nigeria
The Department of State did not immediately specify why it added Nigeria, but in its annual report, earlier this year took note of concerns at both federal and state levels.
It pointed to the mass arrests of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shiite Muslim group that was banned last year on terrorism charges.
According to human rights groups, the Nigerian army has killed around 350 Shiites, many of whom were shot or burned alive during the confrontation in 2015.
This movement drew inspiration from Iran, which is usually the main target for Trump. But the Catholic Church criticized the ban on this group for fear that it would set a dangerous precedent for all religions.
The State Department’s report also covered Muslims’ arrest for eating in public places in Kano during Ramadan, when Muslims have to fast in the daytime, and the new rules for preaching in Kaduna.
Accusing President Muhammadu Buhari
Nigeria is home to Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist base whose 11-year uprising killed over 36,000 people and spread to neighboring countries. In a letter to Pompeo, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said that many more Nigerians were killed in conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, where Christians have suffered most as the climate change exacerbates desertification.