The United States has taken another strong measure against Nigeria in its protest of religious intolerance in the country.
Formerly on a Special Watch List (SWL), Nigeria has now been designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom.
The classification is for countries found culpable of torture, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
Others are prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by abduction or denials of their right to life or liberty.
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in a statement on Monday, listed other affected countries as Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK (North Korea), Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
This means America now regards Nigeria and the rest as states that do not permit the practice of certain religions or that persecute followers of such faiths.
The implication is that they may face economic sanctions including suspension of foreign assistance, trade restrictions and loan prohibitions.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest nation is predominantly Christians and Muslims.
In the last decade, there has been an increase in kidnap and murder of several believers. The U.S. considers the adherents of Christianity the most affected.
In September, President Muhammadu Buhari revealed that his American counterpart, Donald Trump, challenged him on the matter.
At the First Year Ministerial Performance Review Retreat of his second term, Buhari said, “When I was in his office, myself and himself, only God is a witness, he looked at me in the face and said, ‘Why are you killing Christians?’”.
In March, the U.S. released a damning report on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria.
The report cited, among others, the detention of Jones Abiri, a journalist that was held in detention by the Department of State Services (DSS) for more than two years without trial, access to counsel, or family visitation.
It referred to the arrest of Stephen Kefas, Agba Jalingo and the missing Abubakar Idris aka Dadiyata, a government critic abducted from his home in Kaduna State in August 2019. The DSS has denied taking Idris.
In the latest action, the U.S. government placed Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on the SWL.
Furthermore, al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa (ISWAP), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban were named Entities of Particular Concern (EPC).
Pompeo noted that America has not renewed the prior EPC designations for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan, due to the total loss of territory they controlled hitherto.
The top diplomat said although the groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, the U.S. will not rest until the threat of religious freedom abuses by extremist and terrorist groups is eliminated.
Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the SWL. Pompeo based the development of concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year.
He stressed that the courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.
Pompeo assured that America will continue in its efforts to end religiously motivated abuses around the world and ensure that each person, everywhere, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience.
Boko Haram and ISWAP, the ISIS affiliate in West Africa, have wreaked havoc in the region.
Insurgents have executed hundreds of civilians and security operatives, especially in Nigeria’s North, with monumental destruction to businesses, private and public properties.
ISWAP was formed after a number of terrorist leaders and members broke out from Boko Haram in 2015.
In November, the U.S. and Nigeria hosted a virtual meeting with members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
The United Nations (UN), early this year, added ISWAP and ISIS-Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) to its terrorist designations list.
Between February and May 2018, America designated ISIS-GS and ISWAP as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The U.S. has now penalized Nigeria at least five times in the last 20 months.
In May 2019, its Embassy in Nigeria suspended interview waivers for visa renewals aka “Dropbox” process.
In August 2019, America imposed a visa reciprocity fee for all approved applications for visas in B, F, H1B, I, L, and R visa categories.
Recently reversed, it was in retaliation to a similar fee Nigeria charged.
In December 2019, the world power put Nigeria and others on the SWL for governments that have tolerated infringement of religious freedom.
In January 2020, Nigerians and citizens of Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar were taken off those qualified to get visas that can lead to permanent residency.
In September 2020, the U.S. notified the world of its plan to restrict students from Nigeria and others from being admitted for more than two years.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal was sequel to its 2019 Entry/Exit Overstay Report released in March.