The United States (US) on Wednesday, November 17, removed Nigeria from its list of countries with religious freedom concerns, just a day before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in the country as part of a tour of Africa.
Blinken is expected to arrive in Abuja today, Thursday, November 18, 2021.
He is set to meet with officials including President Muhammadu Buhari, and deliver a speech on US Africa policy.
The US Secretary of State will be traveling to Nigeria from Kenya;where he kicked off his Africa tour which will see him also travel to Senegal.
The omission drew a sharp rebuke from a US government commission. The commission had recommended the Joe Biden administration keep Nigeria as a so-called country of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating violations of religious freedom.
Blinken made an annual announcement on Wednesday of the countries on the list; naming Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as countries of particular concern.
He also placed Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a watch list for religious freedom; while also designating armed groups, including the Islamic State and several of its affiliates, as entities of concern.
But Nigeria, which was added to the list for the first time in 2020, was not re-designated.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Also, it is unclear if the designation was related to the secretary’s travel.
The U.S. 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 had also recommended that India, Syria, and Vietnam be designated as countries of concern. In addition, it 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