A Christian charity has accused the United States of playing politics with people's lives after the country announced it was taking Nigeria off its list of 'countries of particular concern.'
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria from the list on the eve of his visit to the country this week.
Open Doors says thousands of Christians are killed in Nigeria every year with many also abducted, including schoolchildren.
Iliad Djadi, is the charity's senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-saharan Africa. He’s been speaking to Premier about what this could mean for Christians in Nigeria.
“This is a sudden and really disappointing move from the US and is a highly political decision. It was made ahead of Antony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria, so we see it as a way for the US government to please the Nigerian government and for everyone to really expect in return some business agreement or some business deal. So they made that decision at the expense of human rights and putting business first on the agenda.
“The persecution of Christians is a matter of fact and evidence – it’s well documented by human rights organisations including Migration Watch and Amnesty International. It is well documented by the US Commissioner for Religious Freedom."
Nigeria ranks number nine on Open Doors World Watch List, an annual ranking system of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.
“Christians in Nigeria are very, very disappointed. They feel abandoned by the US because they have always seen the US as a key ally in their plea and fight for their rights and for protection. But now they feel abandoned by the US and they are deeply disappointed. They feel alone. It's difficult in these circumstances to rely on the US to defend them or to protect them. That's the problem.
“Persecution will only increase over this. Boko Haram has been active for 12 years now and they have killed 1000s of people and displaced more than 2 million people. But this violence is also moving south in Nigeria, so nobody is safe. People are not safe. More than 60 people were recently kidnapped during a Sunday service at church, some of them killed and some are still detained somewhere by the kidnappers. You may also remember the kidnapping of schoolchildren in the same area of southern Kaduna. Some of them were released, but some of them killed. The kidnapping and killing of people has become an endemic issue in Nigeria.
“The US has always been seen as the protector of human rights, defender of the vulnerable, but this is not the case now. So we are calling on the US government to reverse that decision.
“This will only reinforce us in our position to continue to pray. Let’s keep praying for our brethren, for all the persecuted ones in Nigeria. Let's pray for the political authorities, the leaders in Nigeria to play their role. We are calling to them and we're expecting them to provide protection for all in Nigeria.”
This week, during a press conference in Abuja with Nigeria's Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, Secretary of State Antony Blinken encouraged accountability over human rights concerns.
In a statement, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was 'appalled' at Nigeria’s 'unexplainable' removal from the list of 'countries of particular concern.'