Attacks on worshippers in Nigeria lead to calls for higher U.S. priority on religious freedom in Nigeria policy

by | Oct 7, 2022

Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned a recent “horrific attack on worshippers” at a mosque in Nigeria. A group of armed men on motorcycles killed 15 in a violent assault at the Jumu’at central mosque in Ruwan Jema town, according to Reuters.

It is just the latest in a rash of deadly attacks at houses of worship in the country, leading the Commission earlier this month to report on the growing problem in Nigeria, which was “once known for its widespread religious diversity.”

In recent years, nonstate actor violence has increased in most parts of Nigeria, and this violence has yielded devastating humanitarian and human rights consequences, including but not limited to violence based on religion and other violations of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of religion or belief.

Violence that infringes on freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria includes militant Islamist violence, identity-based violence at the intersection of religion, ethnicity and geographic heritage, mob violence against individuals accused of blasphemy, and violence impacting worship.

A coalition of religious freedom advocates last month called on the U.S. State Department to place Nigeria back on its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC) due to the egregious threats to religious freedom there. The State Department removed Nigeria from the CPC list in 2021, but it designated groups terrorizing the Nigerian people, including Boko Haram, as “entities of particular concern.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the group also called for a Special Envoy to be appointed specifically to address religious freedom concerns in Nigeria. They wrote that “[t]he CPC designation and Special Envoy are vital to recognizing the gravity of the religious freedom violations occurring in the country and the government’s unwillingness to control the problems, as well as its contributions to the problems.”

As Jeff Brumley reported for Baptist News Global, Nigeria was “once known for its widespread religious diversity.” Now the growing violence from unchecked militant groups against both Muslim and non-Muslims in the country threatens the freedoms of conscience and belief of all Nigerians.

As USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie said, “All Nigerians have the right to gather for services and worship together without fear of attack.”