Last week, the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken published a list of countries and entities "of particular concern" regarding religious freedom, including China, Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and many more.
Nigeria is not on the watchlist, despite thousands of Nigerian Christians and Muslims having been murdered in 2021 by Islamic Jihadist groups such as Boko Haram (which the State Department designated as an "entit[y] of concern").
Nigeria was previously included in the State Department's Religious Freedom Watchlist in Dec. 2020 by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) criticized the State Department's decision to exclude Nigeria from the list. USCIRF has recommended the State Department to designate Nigeria as a "country of particular concern" on religious freedom since 2009.
"USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom," USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said in a statement.
"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, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting."
Maenza could be referring to when Blinken spoke about Nigeria's religious freedom violations in a press conference in May.
"In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death," Blinken said in May. "Yet the government has still not brought anyone to justice for the military's massacre of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 2015."
International Christian Concern (ICC), a Christian persecution watchdog organization, also issued a statement on the list.
"Although we celebrate the inclusion of Algeria on the SWL, we are troubled by Nigeria's omission as a CPC," said ICC President Jeff King
"The Nigerian government has done almost nothing to stop the violence against Nigerian Christians, leading to continued violent persecution. In some instances, as with Kaduna's Governor El-Rufai, the Nigerian government has even furthered the violence. We will continue to raise the voices of the many victims of Nigeria with the U.S. government and will continue to serve Nigeria's Christian community."
ICC named Nigeria one of the worst violators of religious freedom for Christians in their annual "Persecutor of the Year Awards."
David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, called it "a baffling error" to exclude Nigeria from the watchlist.
"Open Doors USA has documented thousands of targeted killings of Nigerian Christians every year for more than a decade," Curry said in a statement. "In no other country on earth do we see such a sustained level of outright violence directed towards a Christian community, and the situation has only deteriorated over the past 12 months. The Nigerian government has stubbornly refused to address this violence. The removal of Nigeria from this list will embolden bad actors and strongly deter efforts to bring peace to the region."
Politico reports a former state official said Blinken's decision to exclude Nigeria was "diplomatic malpractice," and that it was "clearly tied to Blinken's visit" to Nigeria last week.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said it is "appalling" that "the withdrawal of the CPC designation coincided with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's visit to Nigeria – when he should have been confronting [Nigerian] President [Muhammadu] Buhari on his record."
"I have chaired multiple hearings on what is unfolding in Nigeria, and I listen to diverse voices. I couldn't be more disappointed in Secretary Blinken," Smith said. "You can't give President Buhari a passing grade when he has utterly failed to protect religious freedom, including and especially that of Christians.
Politico also reports another state official said Nigeria was excluded because it did not meet the criteria for any designation of concern. The official also said Blinken's visit had nothing to do with the timing of the list's release.
"I understand that it's hard to believe that it's a coincidence," the State Department official said of the timing of Blinken's trip to Nigeria.
Former NFL player Benjamin Watson criticized the Nigerian government for doing "almost nothing" and the Biden administration for doing "even less" about Christian persecution in Nigeria.
🔦 Not The Bee has previously reported on persecution and terrorism in Nigeria, including a report showing that 43,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since 2009.