For several years, Family Research Council has focused attention on the troubled African country of Nigeria. We have frequently reported about the rampant violence and killing of Christians by radical Islamist terrorists -- in the eyes of many seen as a "slow-motion genocide." In early 2021, FRC updated an extensive report on the relentless violations of religious freedom in that vast and influential African nation.
Then, just a year ago, we were grateful and encouraged to learn that then-Sec. of State Mike Pompeo had designated Nigeria as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC). That designation is applied to countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Sadly, Nigeria's designation was short-lived.
On "Washington Watch," Tony Perkins invited Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to discuss the shocking and unexplainable actions of Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Nigeria. Just hours after Blinken launched the Biden administration's first diplomatic outreach to Africa, the U.S. inexplicably removed Nigeria from its State Department CPC list -- an outrageous betrayal of an already brutalized Christian community.
Tony described how the consequences of this betrayal were tragically illustrated by recent events.
"Last Friday, heavily armed jihadist Fulani herdsmen reportedly attacked villagers in Nigeria's plateau state where ten Christians were killed, and 100 homes were burned down. Just this Monday, we heard reports of threats being made to the Christian community in Nigeria's southern Zamfara state, where churches were warned to stop worshiping and shut down or face fierce attacks. Meanwhile, more than 60 worshipers from a Baptist church in Kaduna State who were kidnapped on October 31st are still being held for ransom. And these incidences are just the tip of the iceberg."
Such abuses aren't just the deadly work of groups like Boko Haram or ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). The government of Nigeria also shares responsibility for them. For example, on December 2, International Christian Concern (ICC) released a report profiling Nigerian Governor Nasir El-Rufai, analyzing his years-long pattern of punishing Christian communities in Kaduna State. "Since taking office as governor in May 2015, El-Rufai has repeatedly endangered Christian communities by ordering them into strict lockdowns. These lockdown orders -- which trap villagers in their homes -- prevent villagers from organizing early warning systems needed to flee impending attacks."
Smith, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, was openly distressed about the Nigeria situation:
"It was an unconscionable retreat when the Secretary of State met with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari. He wanted to give goodies to a president who does not deserve it. Blinken should have been holding him to account for the ongoing and pervasive slaughter of Christians and other Muslims. Some try to say this is a fight between herdsmen and farmers. That's not what this is all about. This is about police that fail to respond, as yet another slaughter was occurring at a church or in a village. The Fulani assailants arrive on motorcycles and others means of transportation. They do a blitz command and start slaughtering people for hours. Then they leave. Police show up many, many hours later to do a casualty count. And there are no -- I'll say it again -- NO consequences.
President Buhari is an ethnic Fulani, and he has unfortunately turned his back with gross callousness and indifference to this suffering. I chaired two major hearings about this a year ago. In one very good hearing -- a very troubling hearing -- we had Nigerians, including a bishop who testified. These witnesses talked about huge, massive ongoing killings.
And as for the CPC, as you know, the statute couldn't be clearer: Even if there's leadership indifference to what the country is doing, that still puts them on the CPC list. If they look the other way or look askance to what is happening, they still belong on the list. And that's just what Buhari is doing."
When asked why the CPC capitulation took place, Smith replied,
"It was a purely political move on the part of the Secretary of State Blinken. Nigeria needs to be sanctioned, and there are a number of other things prescribed in the International Religious Freedom Act. But unfortunately, instead this removal of the CPC designation gives the green or light to those who are committing genocide. Nigeria is a huge country and to allow this to fester like this... I am so disappointed. I can't even begin to tell you."
It's no wonder he's disappointed. More than 11,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since June 2015, and close to 300 churches attacked or destroyed since January 2012. International Christian Concern reports that in the last 18 years, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been murdered by radical Islamic militant groups, while another 2 million people have been displaced. As Christians, we certainly need to pray. But we also need to hold our U.S. government accountable for its "unconscionable retreat." At the same time, Nigeria's leadership must bear responsibility for their relentless cruelties to our Christian brothers and sisters.