Violence Against Christians Moves Nigeria to No. 7 on List of Terror-Affected Nations
Nigeria’s ranking in the latest Global Terrorism Index, released this week, marked a shift from 12th place a year earlier, from 16th place in 2008, and from 30th place in 2005. The top six countries this year are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Yemen and Somali.
Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the index is calculated based on the number of terrorist incidents, the number of deaths, the number of casualties and the level of property damage. The four indicators are used to create a weighted five-year average that takes into account the lasting effects of terrorism.
The newly-published rankings relate to 2011, a year during which 168 terror attacks were recorded in Nigeria, accounting for 437 deaths and 614 injuries.
This year, however, has already witnessed more than 700 Nigerian Christian deaths in Boko Haram-related violence, according to the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), a group formed in New York last September. The looming Christmas period could well bring more, if past years are a guide.
Most recently, ten Christians were reported to have been killed last Saturday after suspected Boko Haram attackers set alight houses and knifed inhabitants in a mostly Christian part of a village in Nigeria’s far north-western Borno state. Three days later attackers in another northern state, Kano, shot dead two policemen and threw homemade bombs at a bus, wounding several people.
On Thursday a government agency reported that 27 schools in two northern states had been destroyed in recent Boko Haram attacks, the Lagos daily Guardian reported. Non-Muslim schools are a key target for the group, whose name roughly translates “Western education is forbidden.”
CANAN has joined appeals for the State Department to designate Boko Haram as an FTO.
Despite the escalating violence the administration has resisted the calls, although it did name three Boko Haram individuals last June under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists. Republican lawmakers who have been pressing for FTO designation, including Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), called the step inadequate.
‘How many more Christians need to be murdered?’
Boko Haram has vowed to cleanse northern Nigeria of Christians. It wants to extend shari’a (Islamic law), which is currently implemented in 12 northern states, across the entire country, 40 percent of whose people are Christians. The group has also demanded that Nigeria’s Christian president, Goodluck Jonathan, convert to Islam or resign.
Yet Obama administration officials have played down religion as the primary motivation for the group.
Assistant secretary of state for African affairs Johnnie Carson told a U.S. Senate hearing last March that religion was “not the primary driver behind extremist violence in Nigeria,” saying that Boko Haram was exploiting “the legitimate grievances of northern populations to garner recruits and public sympathy.”
Carson acknowledged reports of links between Boko Haram elements and al-Qaeda extremists, but said the Nigerian group’s main focus was on “local Nigerian issues and actors.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body that advises the administration and Congress, agrees that issues of governance, poverty, and ethnicity are factors in the Nigerian violence, but describes Boko Haram’s actions as “religiously-related.”
In a report last month the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) also cited the strongly religious character of the group’s violent campaign.
“The attacks have been committed pursuant to the policy defined at the leadership level of Boko Haram, which aims at imposing an exclusive Islamic system of government in northern Nigeria at the expense of Christians specifically,” it said.
The prosecutor said there was reasonable basis to believe the group had committed crimes against humanity, including murder and “persecution,” which the ICC defines in part as the “targeting of an identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender or other ground.”
U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution last May that would require the State Department to report on whether Boko Haram meets the criteria for FTO designation, and if not give detailed reasons for the decision. The measure was referred to a Judiciary subcommittee. (A similar legislative initiative relating to Haqqani Network bore fruit earlier this year, when the State Department eventually designated the Pakistani group.)
The Barnabas Fund, an aid agency working among Christian minorities in Muslim countries, said in an editorial Thursday that when the State Department uses terms like “sectarian violence” to describe the situation in Nigeria it “creates the false impression that Christians are equal participants.”
“It has maintained the view that the Islamist group is driven by economic grievances, despite explicit statements from Boko Haram about its violent intentions towards Christians and calls for an Islamic state in the North.”
“How many more Christians need to be savagely murdered, attacked at church or driven from their homes before the Nigerian government and the U.S. State Department are willing to label Boko Haram as the terrorist organization that it is?” Barnabas asked.
The Nigerian government, too, opposes FTO designation. Nigeria’s ambassador to the U.S. Ade Adefuye told a symposium last August the government worried the move would subject Nigerian travelers to increased scrutiny by U.S. immigration officials, and could also lead to U.S. drone strikes in Nigeria.