By John Ikani
The US has removed Nigeria from the list of religious violators, ahead of the visit by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the country.
The US Government had last year placed Nigeria to its special watch list of states that had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedom
Nigeria is not in the 2021 list which has Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The omission drew a sharp rebuke from a US Government Commission that had recommended the Biden administration keep Nigeria as a so-called country of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating violations of religious freedom.
Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua are also on the special list of governments that have violated religious freedom, according to the US state department.
However, the jihadist groups Boko Haram and ISWAP operating in north-east Nigeria, are still designated as entities of particular concern.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in April recommended that Nigeria remain on the list, citing “violence by militant Islamists and other non-state armed actors, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state authorities” in the country.
The Commission, which had also recommended that India, Syria and Vietnam be designated as countries of concern, said in a statement that it was “appalled” by the removal of Nigeria.
“We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting,” Chair Nadine Maenza said, referring to the department’s report on international religious freedom in May, which cited religious freedom concerns in Nigeria.
Mr Blinken is visiting Nigeria on Thursday on the second leg of his three-nation trip that includes Kenya and Senegal.
He is expected to meet Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari to discuss how both countries can further co-operate on global health, security, expanding energy access and economic growth.
Nigeria is battling a range of security threats, including the long-running Boko Haram insurgency, inter-communal clashes and more recently, a wave of mass abductions at schools by armed gangs.