Nearly at the end of 2020—a year when bad news seemed to be relentless and unstoppable—a good report has emerged. Very good news, in fact. At long last, broken and bloodstained Nigeria has been declared a CPC— a “country of particular concern”—by the U.S. State Department.
On Monday, December 7, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement:
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.”
Shortly after Pompeo’s announcement, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a statement headlined, “USCIRF Welcomes the State Department’s Designation of Nigeria among World’s Worst Violators of Religious Freedom.” The commission applauded the decision—one that many international observers, activists, and victims of Nigeria’s violence have long demanded:
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) praised the State Department’s announcement that it has named 10 “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs), including Nigeria for the first time, and placed four countries on its “Special Watch List” (SWL) for severe violations, pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
“We are gratified that the State Department has named 10 countries as CPCs. We particularly welcome Nigeria’s designation for the first time as a CPC for tolerating egregious violations of religious freedom, which USCIRF had been recommending since 2009. Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom,” said Chair Gayle Manchin.
At Family Research Council, we have written repeatedly and at length about the horrifying violence in that West African country. Our lengthy report on Nigeria forewarned:
Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, and with horrifying acceleration in recent years, verified reports of murders, rapes, mutilations, and kidnapping of Christians in Nigeria have persistently increased. These attacks are frequently accompanied by the torching of homes, churches, villages, and agricultural fields. A July 15, 2020 headline reports that 1,202 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020. This is in addition to 11,000 Christians who have been killed since June 2015. Such violence has reached a point at which expert observers and analysts are warning of a progressive genocide—a “slow-motion war” specifically targeting Christians across Africa’s largest and most economically powerful nation.
And indeed, since that writing in July 2020, massacre after massacre has devastated Nigeria’s Christians communities, and with relentless repetition.
Just last year, President Donald Trump himself raised the issue of Christian persecution with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. “We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump said, with Buhari seated next to him. “We’re going to be… working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen.” The president’s appeal fell on deaf ears.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Buhari is himself a member of the Fulani ethnic group, which is responsible for a large part of the killing, and has gone on unhindered during his presidency. Meanwhile for years, international authorities have turned a blind eye to Nigerian butchery perpetrated not only by Fulani jihadis, but by Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Making excuses for the violence and rarely addressing the religious nature of the conflict, even the American Embassy has seemed unwilling to do more than plead for reconciliation meetings.
Thankfully, all that changed on December 7, 2020 when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Nigeria a CPC. This, in turn, can lead not only to closer scrutiny and, presumably, additional pressure on all concerned in the violence, but also to financial measures. “Congress is notified, and where non-economic policy options designed to bring about cessation of the particularly severe violations of religious freedom have reasonably been exhausted, an economic measure generally must be imposed.” Economic measures might well diminish the hundreds of millions of aid dollars the U.S. has poured into Nigeria for many years.
Will there finally be a shift in the calculations of Nigeria’s leadership and a crackdown on the surging violence of the jihadis? Or will the bloodbath increase until—as in Iraq during ISIS’ devastating assaults on Christian and Yazidi communities—the world wakes up and takes action against the terrorists?
Can the CPC designation really stop the vicious cycles of violence against Christians in Nigeria? Only time—and responsible international diplomacy—will tell. But in fact, as my Hudson Institute colleague Nina Shea recently told me, it’s late in the game as the threat of another genocide looms larger every day. “More Christians have been targeted and slaughtered by extremists in Nigeria,” she pointed out, “than in the entire Middle East in recent years.”