Despite the extreme persecution Nigerian Christians are facing, US President Joe Biden and State Secretary Antony Blinken didn’t find the sufferings of the more than 100 million Christians in Nigeria of a ‘particular concern’. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Senators, and human rights organizations were outraged by the fact that the US administration didn’t include Nigeria on the annual list of the worst countries in the world in terms of religious freedom titled the ‘Country of Particular Concern’ list.
Thousands of Christians are being persecuted in the African Region every year. The most recent brutal attacks against Christians happened in Kafin-Koro village in Niger state on January 15 when terrorists burnt Reverend Father Isaac Achi alive in his home and severely injured another priest. According to reports, a few hours later, terrorists carried out a separate attack on Christians in the northern Katsina state. The terrorists shot a priest and abducted five people from their homes as they were preparing to go to Sunday mass at their Church nearby. [i]
According to the 2023 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, the situation of Christians has worsened in Nigeria since last year,
making the African state the sixth most dangerous country for Christians in the world, with the level of persecution becoming ‘extreme’. In Nigeria, 46 per cent of the population is Christian, meaning that around 100,420,000 believers live in the country. Persecution is the most severe in the north, where militant groups such as Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Fulani militants work together against Christians and against Muslims who don’t support their agenda. According to the report’s findings, ‘religiously motivated killings in Nigeria have risen from 4,650 last year to 5,014 – a staggering 89 per cent of the international total.’[ii]
Despite the extreme persecution Nigerian Christians face, US President Joe Biden and Secretary Blinken have again turned a blind eye to the suffering of Christians in Nigeria and didn’t include the country on the annual list of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom titled the ‘Country of Particular Concern’ list.[iii]As we mentioned it in our previous Hungarian Conservative article, at the end of 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a controversial decision removing Nigeria from the annual list of countries that tolerate religious violence. The Particular Concern list is one of the US government’s most powerful tools to influence the situation of religious freedom in other countries. Despite the outrage of several senators, religious freedom organisations, and experts, the Biden administration did not reverse its decision either in 2021 or in 2022, which sent the alarming message that the administration not only seems to ignore the plight of Christians in Nigeria but also denies the fact that the level of religious freedom in Nigeria has reached that of ‘Particular Concern’. Even the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was shocked by the Biden decision. Nury Turkel, the Chair of USCIRF, stated the following: ‘There is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs. USCIRF is tremendously disappointed that the Secretary of State did not implement our recommendations and recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations that both USCIRF and the State Department have documented in those countries…The State Department’s own Report on International Religious Freedom includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India.’[iv]
Tristan Azbej, the Hungarian state secretary in charge of aiding persecuted Christians wrote the following in his Facebook post remembering Reverend Father Isaac: ‘I pay tribute to the martyred Father Achi and express my condolences to our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in Africa.
However, a tribute is not enough, as the international community must act against the persecution of Christians.
The first step for Western politicians is to end their denial. Contrary to the claims of liberal politicians, Father Achi and dozens of Christians killed every day were not killed because of climate change or local outbreaks but because they are Christians and believe in the name of Jesus Christ. The Government of Hungary supports African Christians exposed to violent terrorist attacks through the Hungary Helps Program. Over the past years, with the Catholic and Protestant churches in Nigeria, we have supported the care for internally displaced persons, the medical care for victims of terrorist attacks, and the reconstruction of destroyed churches, schools, homes, and scholarships for persecuted Christian youth.’[v] This week the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced that Hungary will provide three thousand dollars in immediate emergency humanitarian aid to the Catholic Church in Nigeria.
State Secretary Azbej added in an interview: ‘The attacks highlight the bloody reality of the persecution of Christians. Christian persecution not only exists but is the most burning and serious humanitarian and human rights crisis of our time. Whenever we turn to Western institutions like the European Union to ask them to implement humanitarian programs similar to those of Hungary to help persecuted Christians, we meet with indifference, rejection, and denial.’[vi]
[i] Deutsche Welle, ‘Catholic priest burnt alive in northwest Nigeria attack’, Deutsche Welle (January 15 2023), https://www.dw.com/en/catholic-priest-burnt-alive-in-northwest-nigeria-attack/a-64399846 , accessed 17 January 2023.
[ii] Open Doors, ‘World Watch List: Trends’, Open Doors, (January 17 2023), https://www.opendoors.org/en-US/persecution/persecution-trends/ , accessed 18 January 2023.
[iii] Sean Nelson, ‘Biden and Blinken ‘Turning a Blind Eye’ to Religious Persecution in Nigeria’, New York Sun, (December 17 2022), https://www.nysun.com/article/biden-and-blinken-turning-a-blind-eye-to-religious-persecution-in-nigeria, accessed 18 January 2023.
[iv] United States Commission, ‘USCIRF Outraged by Omission of Nigeria and India from State Department’s List of Countries of Particular Concern’, United States Commission, (Dec 2, 2022), https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/, accessed 18 January 2023.
[v] Tristan Azbej on Facebook, (January 15 2023), https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=713204397040455&set=a.416659360028295, accessed 18 January 2023.
[vi] MTI-Hungary Today, ‘Hungary Sends Urgent Help to Nigerian Christians’, Hungary Today, (January 17 2023), https://hungarytoday.hu/hungary-sends-urgent-help-to-nigerian-christians/, accessed 18 January 2023.