The US Department of State Wednesday removed Nigeria from its “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) list, which designates countries with “particularly severe” religious freedom concerns. This decision preceded Secretary Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria on Thursday and Friday to “discuss furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalizing democracy.”
Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act, the Department of State designated Burma, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs. This was the first time that Russia was listed as a CPC. However, the department did not list Nigeria, which was designated as a CPC in 2020.
Under the Wolf Act, the department also designated countries that “engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom during the previous year” but did not meet all CPC criteria to a “Special Watch List” (SWL). The countries listed Wednesday were Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The US Commission on International Freedom (USCIF), an independent government entity, said that it found it “unexplainable” that the Department of State did not treat Nigeria as a country with no severe religious freedom concerns. In 2009, USCIF listed Nigeria as a country of particular concern. In its 2021 report, USCIF reiterated its recommendation for Nigeria to be included on the CPC list.
USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza stated:
USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom. 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 designation based on facts presented in its own reporting.