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Nigerian bishop: Christian persecution is “more intense now than ever”

A Nigerian Catholic bishop has challenged the United States Secretary of State to justify his decision to remove Nigeria from a persecution watchlist, saying that he has witnessed firsthand the brutal ongoing persecution against Christians in Africa’s most populous nation.

“As far as we are concerned, here in Nigeria, the persecution is more intense now than ever,” Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of the Diocese of Yola said in a Nov. 2021 interview with the Religious Freedom Institute. 

Mamza’s diocese is located in northeastern Nigeria, in Adamawa State, near the border with Cameroon. Mamza’s appointment as bishop of Yola came in 2011 when insurgents with the ISIS-aligned Boko Haram terrorist group were launching attacks in the region. 

In the interview, Mumza addressed the fact that Nigeria no longer appears on the U.S. State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), a watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom. 

Nigeria was listed in 2020, but the country was not included in the 2021 list, released in mid-November. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a Nov. 18-19 visit to Nigeria to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, but it remains unclear why the State Department removed Nigeria from the watchlist.  

“How is it that Nigeria is different from the Nigeria of two years ago?” Mumza asked, asking Blinken to produce statistics or evidence to warrant Nigeria’s removal from the list. 

The U.S. Secretary of State has not had “any contact with us, has not met us and asked us questions,” which Mumza described as “really disheartening.” Persecution continues, Mumza reiterated, and those who are living in Nigeria “are still feeling it, and we are still experiencing it.”

Boko Haram attacks in Adamawa State have included coordinated attacks on businesses, civilians, police stations and government offices in January 2012 that left at least 180 people dead; a November 2015 market suicide bomb that killed 30; and December 2016 double-suicide bombings that left at least 57 people dead, ACI Africa reports. 

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