A group of Nigerian professionals in Diaspora has written to the United States (US) Secretary of State, Mr Mike Pompeo, demanding the designation of Nigeria as a country of particular concern for religious persecution.
In December 2019, the State Department had placed Nigeria, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, to the US Special Watch List (SWL) for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.
Leader of the group, the Global Observatory on Persecution in Nigeria (GOPN), Mr Emmanuel Ogebe, said in the letter to Mr Pompeo sighted by Global Upfront Newspapers (GUN) on Thursday, that with the situation on ground “many” had expected to see Nigeria in the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) category “because of systematic and gross violations of religious freedom, particularly the rights and freedom of Christians who are consistently targets of egregious non-State and institutionalized discrimination.”
Other parts of the letter reads: “Fortunately, the 2019 USCIRF (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) report recognizes ‘‘the systematic repression of religious minority groups, especially in Northern Nigeria’’ and again recommends Nigeria’s CPC designation as it has done for years. It underscores the “ongoing social and institutional bias against religious minorities such as Shi’a and societal taboos against atheism and humanism.
“Furthermore, the report states that the ‘‘2019 general elections did not see incidents of interreligious conflict. However, some campaigns did seek to appeal to voters along religious lines, and the elections were marred by misinformation, incitement to violence, vote-buying, and other corrupt practices.”
“The report also claims that ‘‘intercommunal conflict continues to affect many states, in particular rural areas, and is related to competition over land and water resources, the expansion of farming, growth in population, the spread of small arms, religious and historical grievances, and citizenship policies.
“As ethnic and religious identity are closely intertwined, conflict between two ethnic groups can sometimes be framed as being between religious groups or can lead to reprisals that target individuals based on their religion’’.
“However, notwithstanding the foregoing, the report overlooks some of the fundamental issues of concern in Nigeria that strengthen the case for CPC designation:
1. While USCIRF recognizes that Boko Haram and the ISIS-affiliated faction (ISIS-West Africa) continue to wage an insurgency seeking to create an Islamic state, it fails to highlight that the very logic of Boko Haram ideology is targeted at Christian civilization; the bedrock of Western civilization and democracy. Christians are therefore the first enemy for rejecting Islam. In this case, the USCIRF 2019 report neglects completely the deliberate primary targeting of Christians by Boko Haram which is still ongoing. Besides, any Muslim secondarily targeted by Boko Haram has to be first of all denounced as an authentic Muslim and is portrayed as a kafir or a collaborator with the enemies of Islam before being killed, attacked or kidnapped. Christians are not collateral or incidental targets but principal/primal.
2. USCIRF fails to make a distinction between the physical persecution of Christians and the institutionalized discriminatory policies of the Federal and State governments towards Christians.
3. The report did not recognize a recurring phenomenon where Christian girls are abducted, islamized and forced into marriage. This travesty though made infamous by the abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls from the Christian town of Chibok in 2014, was merely a large scale extrapolation by a Violent Extremist Organization (VEO) that is done by local Muslims in northern villages sometimes, with the support of emirs and state governors.
4. The ongoing genocide against Christians in the Middle Belt Region is oversimplified and presented as “communal conflict.” Christians are not only killed, but their lands are also taken over and themselves displaced. Yet the report does not fully explain this despite the damning evidence. Between 2019 and this year, Christian Communities in Southern Kaduna recorded massacres and displacement in 107 villages. These amount to over 200 Christian communities dislodged in just the contiguous tri-states of Kaduna, Bauchi and Plateau from 2011-2020.
5. The systematic and strategic violation of the rights and freedom of Christians in Nigeria has substantially increased over the years, especially with the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. He unconstitutionally ousted the country’s first southern Christian Chief Justice in over 30 years and illegally appointed the first sharia justice ever, a northern Muslim, to head the Supreme Court and judiciary. The US, UK and UN were amongst those who condemned this violation of separation of powers ostensibly to impose a quisling to give judicial cover to the brazen rigging of Buhari’s re-election that followed.
6. Further MG Buhari runs a National Security Council that is 90% Northern muslim in further violation of the constitutional provisions on fair representation creating a system where the security concerns of Christians are not adequately addressed or represented.
7. In Kano State, NAPTIP, a US-funded Nigerian government agency arrested the Head of a Christian orphanage, Prof Tarfa on Christmas day and he has remained imprisoned the past nine months as persecution for suspected proselytization of Muslim children. However despite the evidence that the children are all Christians, the government shut down the Du Mercy orphanages in two States, took away the children and filed bogus charges against Professor Tarfa. US-taxpayers must be incensed that at least twice last year, an agency supported with American funds participated in the persecution of innocent Christians.
8. The Government of Nigeria continued to fail to secure the release from terrorist captivity of Christian heroine schoolgirl Leah Sharibu since 2018 despite successfully securing the release of over 100 of her Muslim classmates after just one month of their abduction.
9. In the State of Kaduna, the political elite brazenly dropped a Christian candidate for the Gubernatorial re-elections thereby imposing a Muslim/Muslim Governor and Deputy for the first time since the return of democracy two decades ago. This has upset the delicate balance and efforts at peace through mutual respect and fair representation in a state with an equal Christian population.
10. Also in Kaduna State, the Chief of a majority Christian tribe was mysteriously murdered after meetings with the State government with impunity. The Government then proceeded to establish a Muslim Emirate over the Christian community and imprisoned communal leaders on bogus charges ostensibly to squelch opposition to their Islamic conquest by executive fiat.
“To the victims and the citizenry, the culture of impunity reigns side by side with ongoing genocide. Amidst an onslaught by Non-State Actors destroying western and Christian vestiges by terrorism, Nigerians are also sandwiched by a government that is internally corroding and eroding systems and institutions of modern democratic governance while leaving them to be killed at will.
“Mr. Secretary, Nigeria went from being the country with over 50% of the word’s Christian deaths to having over 90% of global Christian deaths in 2018. It has remained the deadliest country in the world to be a Christian (see attached sample of ongoing atrocities.) We therefore urge you, given this dire situation, to accept the recommendation of USCIRF for the designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.
“We thank you for the visa restrictions announced this week on political operatives who undermined Nigeria’s democratic process through rigging and urge you to extend it to those responsible for religious persecution in Nigeria.”