The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned the recent attack on a funeral in Benue State, Nigeria, which killed dozens of mourners in a region where violence often falls along ethnoreligious lines.
“All Nigerians have the right to practice their faith and mourn their loved ones in peace and safety,” said Commissioner Frederick A. Davie. “This attack on a sacred, communal religious ceremony is atrocious and reprehensible. Armed actors in this region frequently show disdain for worshipers and government officials routinely fail to provide justice to faith communities targeted with violence.”
This is just one of the attacks that have impacted religious communities in northcentral Nigeria since the beginning of the year. Other examples include an April 7 attack on internally displaced persons that killed 74 people and January’s bombing of a cattle market that killed 50 people. These incidents serve to further escalate tensions in a region where violence exacerbates ethnoreligious divides and erodes interfaith trust, threatening Nigerians’ freedom of religion or belief. Despite government rhetoric calling for interfaith unity, the Nigerian government has generally failed to enact meaningful policy reforms and changes to address the drivers of violence impacting religious freedom.
“The Nigerian government must be held accountable for protecting the safety and religious freedom rights of its citizens,” said Commissioner Frank Wolf. “The U.S. government needs to give higher priority to religious freedom in its Nigeria policy, at the bare minimum by naming Nigeria a country of particular concern (CPC) and appointing a Special Envoy to the region.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State designate Nigeria as a CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Last year, USCIRF produced recent analyses on religious freedom conditions in Nigeria and held a hearing on Religious Freedom, Violence, and U.S. Policy in Nigeria.