U.S. adds Nigeria to list of world’s worst persecutors

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: holding persecutors accountable.  

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this year’s list of the world’s worst persecutors. The 10 countries include many names you would probably expect: Iran, North Korea, and China. It also includes less familiar countries, like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Most of the countries are not new to the list. But one did make its debut: Nigeria. It’s been added as a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act. Nigeria is the first democracy to make the list. It opens the country to economic sanctions and may well jeopardize millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Joining us to talk about that is Lela Gilbert. She is a senior fellow for International Religious Freedom at the Family Research Council, where she writes about persecution in Nigeria. Thanks so much for joining us today.

LELA GILBERT, GUEST: Oh, thank you for inviting me.

REICHARD: Well, we know terror groups like Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen have attacked Christians in Nigeria for years. So why is it just now that the State Department designates Nigeria as a country of particular concern?

GILBERT: Well, that’s a very good question. It’s interesting that our USCIRF committee, which is bipartisan, has been calling for this since 2009 and it’s just now getting done. So, it’s really hard to explain why, but it’s clearly either not on somebody’s list of important things to do, or they just aren’t taking this seriously as a religious issue, which is what I suspect.

REICHARD: And I should clarify that USCIRF is the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It issues an annual report that assesses threats to religious freedom.

Lela, Nigeria has a fairly close diplomatic relationship with the United States. Will this designation as a religious persecutor matter to Nigerian leaders? And will it motivate them to protect Christians?

GILBERT: Well, as I’ve said before, money talks. And one of the things that’s possible now is sanctions. And cracking down on specific leaders or on groups within Nigeria that are not participating in stopping this. It’s a very corrupt government, whether we have diplomatic relations or not. It’s really complicit in this, if you look closely enough at it. So, it could make a difference.

REICHARD: The designation as a country of particular concern doesn’t by itself trigger sanctions or other penalties. So what do you hope to see happen next?

GILBERT: I’m just glad to see it on the radar and I do hope for sanctions and I hope for a real truth-telling session where we say this is a religious concern. It’s not just a matter of climate change or a matter of resources being limited to these people that are coming in and burning down entire villages. This is a religious act. When they cry “Allahu Akbar” as they kill people, I think that’s enough representation of religion and so I would like to see a little bit more serious action taken on our government’s side inside the country there, including our ambassador and so forth, as well as in sanctions that have to go through our governmental processes.

REICHARD: One question on the minds of many: do you think the next administration will be mindful of the dangers religious minorities face around the world?

GILBERT: I’m not sure about that. I think religion is going to be sidelined against other issues intentionally. But there are cases where Biden seems to have more of an interest in certain regions, and he may well go along with this. It’s so obvious and clear. It’s just that we aren’t sure, yet, how it will play out state-by-state. I’m talking about nation-by-nation when I say that. And whether the religious aspects will be underscored or whether they will be overlooked as they have long been.

REICHARD: Anything else you’d like to add that you think people ought to know about this designation?

GILBERT: Well, my biggest concern is that people really pray for our brothers and sisters in that part of the world. We are Christians. We believe that prayer is important, too. And I don’t think a lot of Americans are even aware of what’s going on in places like Nigeria and Mozambique where there are massacres of Christians for their faith. And I want Christians to be concerned, as well as politically active, in these issues.

REICHARD: Lela Gilbert is a senior fellow for International Religious Freedom at the Family Research Council. Thanks so much for joining us today!

GILBERT: Thank you for inviting me.

(AP Photo/Jossy Ola) People attend a funeral for those killed by suspected Boko Haram militants in Zaabarmar, Nigeria, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. 

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