Boris Johnson’s Special Envoy for Religious Freedom or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, has claimed to be “frustrated” by the US Government’s policy regarding Nigeria. Ms. Bruce did so on June 28, while commenting at a fringe event of the UK Government’s International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief, at which the Baroness Caroline Cox (HART), Dr. Joel Veldkamp (CSI) and the Revd. Canon Hassan John (Anglican Church of Nigeria) gave testimony from a recent fact-finding visit to Nigeria.
Fiona Bruce MP official portrait. Photo credit: www.gov.uk
Last November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria from the State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” regarding “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”. This concession to the Nigerian authorities came on the eve of Blinken’s visit to Abuja, in which he strove to shore up Washington’s preeminent position there in the face of challenges from China, Russia and Boko Haram and related anti-western terrorist groups.
Despite fierce condemnation from human rights defenders in Nigeria and abroad, Nigeria has not been restored to the CPC list.
The UK Special Envoy noted that prior to accepting her current post, she had co-authored an influential report by British parliamentarians entitled “Unfolding Genocide?”, which documents a pattern of violent attacks against Christian communities by Fulani Muslim militias in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. “I think it influenced at the time [the US] putting Nigeria on the CPC [list],” Bruce said. “I am frustrated that it has now been removed.”
Ms. Bruce reserved extraordinary praise for what she called Veldkamp’s “powerful and authoritative” presentation. In it, Veldkamp presented further first-hand evidence of anti-Christian sectarian violence and drew attention to the tendency of the western governments to project it in secular terms as a climate change-driven herder vs farmer conflict or intercommunal strife. Bruce noted that Veldkamp’s message “said so much that our ministers need to keep hearing”.
Speaking in response to a question about why western governments do not help the victimized communities in Nigeria arm themselves as they do in Ukraine, the Special Envoy declared: “I agree. It should happen. It should happen.”
On June 22, CSI’s International President Dr. John Eibner urged the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to propose to the upcoming International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief a resolution calling on Secretary Blinken to reinstate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” regarding religious persecution.
On week later, on June 29, five US Senators – Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton – urged the Secretary of State to do likewise.