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US lawmaker wants Nigeria on ‘concern list’ over blasphemy killings

A member of the United States House of Representatives, Christopher Smith, has asked the US Department of State to include Nigeria in the list of countries of ‘Particular Concern’ over the rising cases of religious prosecution in the country, including killings for blasphemy.

Smith, in a letter read on the floor of the parliament on December 12, noted that Nigeria has the highest record of religious persecution cases recorded globally with 90 percent of such cases recorded in the country.

He stressed that the religious persecution, mostly perpetrated by militants within the Fulani Muslim herder and backed by legislation from some state government, has left several people killed, kidnapped and jailed.

The letter read in part, “As religious freedom advocates and proponents, and leaders of grassroots organisations with millions of American members, we appeal to you to urgently respond to the Department of State’s failure to adequately address egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution in Nigeria, as required by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.

“We specifically urge Nigeria’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern under the IRFA and the appointment of a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region. Additionally, we urge you to support and cosponsor the bi-partisan legislation authored by Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Henry Cuellar House Resolution 82, which calls for the State Department to carry out these two steps.

“A staggering 90 percent of all the Christians killed for their faith worldwide last year were killed in Nigeria, according to Open Doors, an increase from the 80 percent it reported in 2021. Over 5,000 Nigerian Christians are reported to have been killed for their faith in 2022.

“Most of this slaughter is now carried out by militants within the Fulani Muslim herder population, who have been allowed to act with impunity. While some Muslims have also been killed by the same forces, the Observatory for Religious Freedom in Africa found that, from October 2019 to September 2022, Christians in Nigeria were 7.6 times more likely to be killed and six times more likely to be abducted than Muslims by terrorist and militia groups, when taking into account their population’s proportions in Nigeria’s states.

“Catholic priests, evangelical pastors, and Methodist bishops have been special targets of kidnapping by Fulani and unidentified gunmen, typically shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.

“Authorities also engage directly in religious persecution by enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws that have resulted in recent death sentences for Sufi musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and two Muslim clerics, and ‘religious insult’ laws that led to a 24-year sentence for Nigeria’s Humanist Association head, Mubarak Bala.”

Smith expressed fear that if religious persecution continues to thrive in Nigeria, it may spread to other African countries considering the status of Nigeria as the most populous country in Africa.

“As Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy, Nigeria wields significant influence in Sub-Saharan Africa. By allowing religious persecution to proliferate within its borders, Nigeria is compounding already heightened regional insecurity. Both American interests and the International Religious Freedom Act require a response, “ he stated.

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