Nigeria (MNN) — Nigeria is on the U.S. State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern list for the first time. The West African nation joins nine other countries accused of “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement issued Monday.
Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton says it could lead to sanctions. “That wasn’t announced as a part of the designation, so we don’t know what actions the State Department and the U.S. government will take going forward,” he clarifies.
“But some of those things, like sanctions, weren’t in play before this designation was made.”
On Tuesday, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel D. Brownback answered questions about the 2020 designations in a special briefing. Regarding Nigeria, Brownback said:
The Secretary has great concern about what’s taking place in Nigeria at this time. A number of terrorist groups are organizing and pushing into the country. We’re seeing a lot of religious-tinged violence taking place in that country and indeed in West Africa. It’s an area of growing concern about what’s happening, in particular the tension between religious groups… religious affiliation is [often] used to try to recruit and inspire violent acts.
Pray for Nigeria
“It is something that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended every year since 2009 so I don’t necessarily think it comes as a surprise, but it’s interesting in several respects,” Nettleton notes.
“It is likely to be the last [CPC] list under the Trump administration. I wonder if putting Nigeria on the list was a way to ‘put a marker in place’ [as] hey, this is something the world needs to pay attention to.”
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“When we see that Nigeria is now a country of particular concern, hopefully that raises a flag on our prayer list that says, hey, I need to pray for my brothers and sisters in Nigeria because they are facing more pressure; they’re facing more threats,” Nettleton says.
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“Especially as we think about a transition in government, we need them to know religious freedom is something as voters that we pay attention to, that we’re watching,” Nettleton notes.
“The government, at least in theory, works for us so we need to let them know this is a priority.”
Header image courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA.