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USCIRF Alarmed By Rising Cases of Violence Against Religious Groups in Nigeria

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns the recent uptick of recurring Islamist insurgent attacks across Nigeria targeting communities based on religion. USCIRF reiterates the need for the U.S. Department of State to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.

USCIRF is alarmed by the amount of violence and attacks taking place throughout Nigeria in the north and south in recent months. This momentum is not stopping, and we cannot stand by and watch more Nigerians being targeted on the basis of their faith, especially as we near the holiday season where we have seen this escalation in the past,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie. “USCIRF reiterates its call for the State Department to designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern, which is merited based on its own reporting on religious freedom conditions in the country.”

In the past month, Islamic insurgent-directed Fulani gangs killed at least 10 Christians in Taraba State, while a dozen similar gunmen kidnapped over 150 people in Zamfara State, and Boko Haram killed 15 rice farmers in Borno State. These incidents serve to further escalate tensions in a country where violence divides and erodes trust, threatening Nigerians’ freedom of religion or belief. Historically, violence in Nigeria has fallen along ethnoreligious lines. Violence by Boko Haram, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'adati wal-Jihad (JAS), and the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) also threaten the freedom of religion or belief of Nigerians. Despite statements calling for interfaith unity, the Nigerian government has generally failed to enact meaningful policy reforms and changes to address the drivers of violence impacting religious freedom.

The United States must hold the Nigerian government accountable for failing to protect the religious communities within Nigeria,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frank R. Wolf. “In addition to designating Nigeria as a CPC, the State Department should appoint a Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region. The U.S. Congress must also request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Nigeria in achieving religious freedom objectives in the country.”

In June 2023, USCIRF produced an analysis on ethnonationalism and religious freedom in Nigeria. Last month, the Commission held a virtual event and published a report on religious freedom concerns in the Sahel Region of Africa, including Nigeria.

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