Religious freedom advocates and organizations from around the world are calling on the U.S. State Department to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and dated Sept. 19, a group consisting of 33 organizations and 35 individuals asked Blinken to name Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).
A CPC is defined as a country "engaged in" or tolerating "particularly severe violations of religious freedom."
The group also asked the secretary to appoint a special envoy to investigate religious persecution and make recommendations, in consultation with local representatives.
As CBN News has reported for the last several years, Islamic extremist groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State, operate freely in the West African country. Groups like the Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia, are often radical Muslims who target Christians in their relentless attacks on villages across the West African country.
The Fulani were early adopters of Islam, participating in holy wars, or jihads, in the 16th century that established them as a dominant social and economic force in Western Africa, according to WorldWatch Monitor.
The group's letter also referenced the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Africa (ORFA) report citing that from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021, 4,303 Christians and 2,235 Muslims were killed in jihadist-related contexts in the country. The ORFA report also found that "Christians were 7.8 times more likely to be killed in jihadist-related attacks than Muslims," the letter explained.
This demonstrates that Christians are being specifically targeted by terrorists and militants, the letter said.
The religious freedom advocates also told the secretary that after the unexplained removal of Nigeria's CPC designation last November, the level of violence and targeting of Christians increased.
"Open Doors found more Christians killed in Nigeria in 2021—4,650—than in all other countries in the world combined. The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law views the trend for 2022 as on track to surpass that number, with no fewer than 2,543 Christians killed in jihadist-related violence in the first half of 2022," the letter said.
In response to the rising violence and murder of Christians in Nigeria, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to Blinken last June urging him to immediately re-designate Nigeria as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act.
In July, the Nigerian government denied religious persecution is taking place within their country. Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, denied persecution against Christians was happening in Nigeria.
In a statement, Mohammed said the concerns expressed about Nigerian Christians' lack of religious freedom rights hinged upon falsehoods and misunderstanding of the religious situation in the country. He stressed that Nigeria does not have legislation that allows for the violation of religious freedom rights and that "it is not true that Nigeria persecutes anybody on account of his or her faith."
"If statistics is to be taken, I can say confidently that as many Muslims as Christians have been victims of these criminals," and stated that, to his knowledge, the extremist group, Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), is the sole known group to target Christians in Nigeria," the statement continued.
International Christian Concern, a persecution watchdog, said at the time it found Mohammed's statement "concerning as it ignores the continuous attacks on Christians by Fulani militants, ICC's winner for the Persecutor of the Year entity, and the violence posed by Boko Haram, the extremist group of which ISWAP is an offshoot."
In their letter to Blinken, the religious freedom advocates noted, "The CPC designation and Special Envoy are vital to recognizing the gravity of the religious freedom violations occurring in the country and the government's unwillingness to control the problems, as well as its contributions to the problems."
The letter was organized by ADF International, a division of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty legal group.