Lord Benyon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL1951):
Question by Lord Alton of Liverpool:
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking through their Strengthening Peace and Resilience in Nigeria (SPRiNG) programme to address attacks on Christians in that country, following the murder of a family of six who were burned alive on 23 January. (HL1951)
Tabled on: 26 January 2024
The UK Government condemns all incidents of violence against civilians in Nigeria. This affects all faith and non-faith communities, including Christians. The Strengthening Peace and Resilience in Nigeria programme (SPRING) will help Nigeria address the root causes of conflict in the Middle Belt and beyond by supporting and shifting incentives of stakeholders, so they are more willing and able to respond to conflict, security, justice and natural resource management challenges in target areas.
Date and time of answer: 09 Feb 2024 at 13:26.
According to Open Doors International 4,998 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2023, meaning that 82% of all Christians killed for their faith last year were in Nigeria
Open Doors reports: “Christians in Nigeria continue to be terrorised with devastating impunity by Islamic militants and armed ‘bandits’ – particularly in the north and central regions of the country. The attacks are often brutal in nature and can involve destruction of properties, abductions for ransom, sexual violence and death. Believers are stripped of their livelihoods and driven from their homes, leaving a trail of grief and trauma.
More believers are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year than everywhere else in the world, combined. Men and boys are often specifically targeted, to undermine the growth of Christian families in the future. Women and girls face abduction and sexual violence, with the knowledge that sometimes their communities reject them when they come home.
Violence by Islamic extremist groups such as Fulani militants, Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State in West African Province) increased during the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, putting Nigeria at the epicentre of targeted violence against the church. The government’s failure to protect Christians and punish perpetrators has only strengthened the militants’ influence. The implications of the new president, Bola Tinubu, are not yet clear.
Christians living in the Sharia (Islamic law) states of northern Nigeria can also face discrimination and tremendous pressure as second-class citizens. Believers from Muslims backgrounds often experience rejection from their own families and pressure to renounce their new faith.”
NCR Report Feb 2024
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee has advanced a resolution to increase sanctions and pressure on the Nigerian government over the rampant persecution of Christians and other minorities in the country.
Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the resolution would call on the Biden administration to designate Nigeria a “country of particular concern” (CPC), a designation that comes with additional sanctions.
The resolution would also urge the administration to appoint a special U.S. envoy to Nigeria to monitor and report on incidents of persecution.
Smith and other proponents of the bill, including Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), maintain that adding Nigeria to the State Department’s CPC blacklist would be an effective means to pressure the Nigerian government to address the persecution.
Sean Nelson, a legal counsel for ADF, has previously told CNA that the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious-freedom situation in other countries.”
For years now, Nigeria has been recognized by religious-rights groups as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian.
According to Open Doors International 4,998 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2023, meaning that 82% of all Christians killed for their faith last year were in Nigeria.
In late January, Nigerian Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of the Diocese of Makurdi told CNA that the persecution amounts to a Christian “genocide” in which radical Islamic groups’ goal is to “systematically” eliminate the Christian population from Nigeria.
Despite this, the Biden administration has left Nigeria off the CPC list for the last three years. This year, the administration’s decision to leave Nigeria off the list came just weeks after a series of attacks on Christmas left more than 200 Nigerian Christians dead.
“Following the Biden administration’s repeated failure to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern despite widespread outcry, we are grateful to the members of Congress who are taking these vital steps to increase pressure on Nigeria for its egregious violations of religious freedom,” Nelson said in a Wednesday press release.
“No person should be persecuted for their faith, and it is imperative that the U.S. government condemn the targeted violence, unjust imprisonments, and egregious blasphemy laws that plague Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria,” he added.
Nelson told CNA that the resolution “lays out an undeniable case that Nigeria has engaged in and tolerated egregious, systematic, and ongoing violations of religious freedom, and some of the worst in the world, particularly for Christians in the north.”
If Congress passes the resolution, Nelson said he hopes the Biden administration would “listen and change course.”
“More importantly,” he said, he believes the resolution’s passage “would send an immense signal of support for the victims of persecution in Nigeria themselves, who have asked for the international community to raise their voices and would put pressure on the Nigerian government to take the persecution seriously, hold attackers accountable, and free those who have been imprisoned and charged under blasphemy-related allegations.”
“There has already been a great amount of outcry over the lack of the CPC designation for Nigeria by the USCIRF and civil society organizations that focus on international religious freedom,” he said. “Having the voice of Congress echo those concerns would also give the concerns an international amplification that is sorely needed.”
According to Nelson, the Nigerian resolution will now move forward for a vote in the House. However, no date has been set for when the vote will take place