It came as a surprise to human rights activists when Nigeria was removed from the U.S. State Department's annual list of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom.

"Appalled" by the State Department's "unexplained" decision to classify Nigeria as a country with no significant religious freedom violations, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement on Nov. 17.

"USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom," stated USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza.

"While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting."

According to Catholic News Agency, the USCIRF determined that Nigerian civilians were subjected to violence and discrimination by militant Islamists as well as arbitrary arrest by state-approved Shariah courts.

According to their report, there were at least 11 attacks on churches in Nigeria's Middle Belt by kidnappers targeting Christians. The leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State was reportedly killed by Boko Haram in 2020.

The issue caught the attention of other watchdogs, as well.

Open Doors CEO David Curry revealed that his group has recorded hundreds of deaths of Nigerian Christians over the previous decade.

"In no other country on earth do we see such a sustained level of outright violence directed towards a Christian community, and the situation has only deteriorated over the past 12 months," he said.

Curry claimed that the Nigerian government has been staunch in its refusal to deal with this violence.

The International Christian Concern also issued their statement.

"As the situation in Nigeria continues to worsen for the country's Christian community, this omission comes as a surprise to ICC and other human rights organizations following the crisis," the persecution monitor said.

In fact, for this year's Persecutor of the Year Awards, the ICC has ranked Nigeria as the world's most repressive country for Christians in terms of religious freedom violations. It also produced a report on the Nigerian government's failure to appropriately address the violence against Christians and even actively maintained the persecution in certain cases.

CNA also noted that earlier this month that Abuja Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama had urged Nigerian Catholics to recite the rosary for an end to "the irrational killings and attacks resulting in internally displaced people."

In fact, Nigeria was identified as a "Country of Particular Concern" by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year due to continuous and "egregious violations" of religious freedom in the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is scheduled to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria on Nov. 18-19, has not yet given a public explanation for why the State Department decided to remove Nigeria from this category.
The U.S. State Department has designated these nations as "Countries of Particular Concern" for their disregard for religious freedom: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In 2020, religious freedom condition reportedly deteriorated in Russia, and the country was added to the list.