Nigeria: Govt to Engage U.S. to Remove Nigeria From Blacklist

The federal government yesterday expressed its readiness to open talks with the United States for the delisting of Nigeria from the religious freedom blacklist.

It also repudiated accusations by the US that it is suppressing religious freedom in Nigeria.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye, said the engagement would afford Nigeria not only the opportunity to demand the country’s removal from the blacklist but to also express its displeasure at Nigeria’s inclusion on the list.

The statement was in reaction to Monday’s decision by the US to add Nigeria to a religious freedom blacklist, which contains countries with severe religious violations.

It blacklisted Nigeria for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations.”

Although the US did not state why Nigeria was blacklisted, the Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, who announced the measure, said his country will continue to act when religious freedom is attacked.

He explained that US law requires such designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Apart from Nigeria, other nations on the blacklist include Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, China, Iran, Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The US State Department in its annual report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.

The allegation against Nigeria is that it engaged in mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shi’ite Muslim group and for disregarding court orders asking it to release the leader of the sect Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 after a clash between the military and members of the sect in Zaria, Kaduna State.