Ahead of US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s visit to Nigeria, the United States of America has removed Nigeria from the list of counties where, according to it, religious violations are carried out.

Blinken, who is billed to visit Nigeria between tomorrow and , disclosed this in a statement he issued yesterday.

The American government also blacklisted the Boko Haram terror group and had designated it as “Entities of Particular Concern” alongside al-Shabab, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban.

“Each year the secretary of state has the responsibility of identifying governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act. I am designating Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

“I am also placing Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom,” Blinken stated.

Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, had in December 2020 declared that Nigeria, and some countries, persecute citizens for their religious beliefs.

In the latest release, Blinken said the US is committed to freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country.

Meanwhile, leaders of the National Consultative Front (NCFront), led by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Umar Ghali Na’ Abba, has sought the urgent intervention of the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to impress it upon President Muhammadu Buhari to sign of the new Electoral Act into law.

A statement signed by the head of publicity, NCFront, Dr Yunusa Tanko, of the newly initiated group of eminent Leaders of Conscience in Nigeria, and made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday in Abuja, said as leaders of conscience and stakeholders in the progress of the country, they welcome Bliken to the country as a partner in the fight for a strong democracy in Nigeria and on the African Continent.

The leaders noted that for several months now, there has been intense advocacy and campaigns around the passage of the Bill to amend the Electoral Act (2010), the purport of which is to put in place an ideal electoral process that will be devoid of rigging, large-scale violence and all sorts of irregularities that have always trailed and bedeviled elections in Nigeria since the return to civil rule in 1999.

It said in light of this, they have chosen to call the attention of Secretary Blinken to the most critical subject matter in growing and building Nigeria’s democracy, which is about the Bill to amend the Electoral Act (2010) which both chambers of the National Assembly had harmonised and sent to the president for assent.

The statement read in part, “The process of the passage of the Bill to amend the Electoral Act has not been without bottlenecks, as some of the important aspects of the Bill were mischievously removed at the committee stage of the legislative process, but for the strong advocacy by Nigerians demanding that the senators and members of the House of Representatives listen to the yearnings of the people, they would not have been restored.

“Some of the previously expunged provisions include the part of the Bill that seeks to introduce electronic transmission of results and electronic voting.

“Following, overwhelming pressure and demand from the civic space and concerned citizens, the National Assembly had no choice other than to yield to the yearnings of the people by restoring those expunged provisions to the Bill.”

NCfront leaders said the Electoral Amendment Bill, having successfully scaled through the requisite legislative procedure including the harmonisation stage, is now to be forwarded to the president for assent.

However, it said the National Assembly in its wisdom also opted for direct primaries for political parties in choosing their candidates for general elections, which has drawn bad blood between the state governors and the people’s representatives, with the governors now scheming to frustrate signing the electoral act into law by pressuring the president

“As the Bill now awaits the assent of President Buhari, there are doubts and skepticism as to whether the Bill will scale through the final stage because of the position of the governors on the nomination process of the political parties’ candidates for reasons best known to the governors in Nigeria.

“It is upon this reality that we use this medium to appeal to the visiting US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, to leverage on the existing cordial relationship between United State of America and the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the US open support for strengthening democracy worldwide and in nudging President Muhammadu Buhari to speedily assent to the electoral amendment Bill as passed by the National Assembly irrespective of the dust being raised by the governors so that President Buhari doesn’t again throw away the baby with the bath water this time around.”

It added that they are advocating for his intervention realising that the United States has over the years consistently shown considerable interest in the overall development of democracy and governance in Nigeria.

It added that the signing of the bill into law will positively impact the electoral and political space in Nigeria as it would restore the lost confidence of not only the Nigerian electorate, but also the international community in Nigerian electoral system.