The Donald Trump administration has included Nigeria on a list of countries that violates religious freedoms, as a dress rehearsal for sanctions for Africa’s most populous country and largest economy.
United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, wrote on his Twitter page that “today the U.S. designates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as countries of concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for engaging systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations.
“The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom. No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs. These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act.”
The designation means that the U.S can impose certain sanctions on Nigeria bordering on trade, counter-terrorism and bilateral cooperation because it now considers Nigeria a non-secular, police state that tramples on the rights of individuals to choose who they worship.
On paper, Nigeria is evenly split between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south and subscribes to the notion of secularity in its constitution.
However, religious minorities in the north of Nigeria, particularly in southern Kaduna, have long bemoaned torture and killings at the hands of a predominantly Muslim population.
Shiite Muslims in Nigeria have also faced attacks on the streets from the state.
Trump’s hate affair with Nigeria
It is not the first time the Trump administration has included Nigeria on a list of majorly Muslim or authoritarian states.
In January, the Trump administration included Nigeria on a list of countries for visa restrictions or bans.
Other majorly Muslim countries that made the list were Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania. A White House spokesperson, Hogan Gidley, had said at the time that: “While there are no new announcements at this time, common sense and national security both dictate that if a country wants to fully participate in U.S. immigration programs, they should also comply with all security and counter-terrorism measures — because we do not want to import terrorism or any other national security threat into the United States.”
Politico had written at the time “that countries under consideration for the expanded travel ban include some that have either had solid bilateral relations with the U.S., or which the U.S. has courted.
“Nigeria, for instance, is a U.S. counter-terrorism partner and there is a large Nigerian diaspora community in the United States. At the same time, Trump has in the past referred to African nations as “shithole” countries whose citizens he did not want coming to the United States.
“He also once said that if Nigerians come to the U.S., they will never “go back to their huts” in Africa.”