Contact: Jeff Sagnip
Smith: Attacks on Christians in Nigeria: Unprovoked, Unconscionable
Congressional hearing focuses on U.S.-Nigerian relations, attacks of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Christians
Jul 10, 2012
Remarks by Chairman Chris Smith at July 10, 2012 congressional hearing of the Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee.
Good afternoon. Today’s hearing will examine U.S. policy and policy options for managing relations with Nigeria in light of concerns on terrorism and social and political unrest.
The stability and commitment to justice and the rule of law of the Nigerian government is critical to regional, continental and global economic interests. Nigeria is hugely important on many fronts. Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil and its largest democracy, is one of the U.S. government’s key strategic partners on the continent. It is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 155 million people, roughly half Muslim and half Christian, and its second-largest economy. Nigeria supplies nearly three times the volume of imports to the United States as Angola, the second leading U.S. import supplier. The United States receives nearly 20% of our petroleum exports from Nigeria.
Consequently, Nigeria’s stability is of critical interest for the U.S. economy and American policy interests in Africa.
Attacks by the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram on Christians, including attacks launched this past weekend, are unprovoked and unconscionable. People of all faiths—and all people of goodwill— must demand immediate action against this terrorist organization.
According to Catholic News Agency/EWTN News:
“Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama is concerned over the seemingly endless violence against Christians that claimed at least 58 lives this past weekend and hundreds of others in recent weeks. It is ‘our prayer that something definitive will be done to stop the situation that is inhuman,’ the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria and Nigerian Bishops’ Conference president said. In a July 9 interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Kaigama said that the violence against Christian villages around Jos ‘doesn’t seem to stop.’ Although he was recently awarded the Institute for International Research’s annual peace building award, the archbishop said he and his priests are discouraged by the silence of foreign governments surrounding the violence in Nigeria. A peaceful resolution ‘canot be left to just one country,’ the archbishop said, urging a, ‘collective effort.’”
Boko Haram reportedly is in league with al-Qaeda in the Mahgreb and is involved at some level with Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, Islamists in Somalia and possibly even the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In addition to its well-publicized attacks on Christians in Nigeria, Boko Haram has been involved in murdering those they consider moderate Muslims or Muslims collaborating with the central government or the West, including several Muslim clerics, the leader of the All Nigeria People’s Party and the brother of the Shehu of Borno, a northern Muslim religious leader. There are reports that some northern Nigerian leaders may be supporting Boko Haram in some way as leverage against a government they oppose.
U.S. policy toward Nigeria also must take into account ethnic, religious and political challenges the Nigerian government faces outside of the Boko Haram dynamic. Furthermore, development deficits in Nigeria have had unequal impacts on various minority ethnic groups, such as in Nigeria’s Delta region. This lack of attention to equitable development in Nigeria has led to violent uprisings that do not appear to be resolved in any part of the country, certainly not in the Niger Delta.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan is considered to be the personification of his name: a fortunate politician who has been in the right place at the right time to enable him to enjoy a meteoric rise in politics with no perceived political base or political distinction in his relatively brief career. He was an obscure government employee before he entered politics in 1998, and a year later, he was elected Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. Except for his success in negotiations with his fellow Ijaws in the troubled delta region, he served without any special distinction until he became the Governor of Bayelsa State, after his predecessor was impeached on corruption charges in 2005.
Outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo selected then-Governor Jonathan to be the People’s Democratic Party vice presidential candidate with Umaru Yar’Adua, a presidential candidate from the north, in the 2007 elections. Yar’Adua was ill for much of his time in office, and Jonathan was called on to exercise presidential authority in November 2009 when Yar’Adua was unable to do so. Nigerian power brokers accepted Jonathan as official Acting President in February 2010. When Yar’Adua finally died in May 2010, these power brokers only accepted Jonathan to be sworn in as president because he was not considered a threat and likely wouldn’t run for reelection.
However, Jonathan surprised them by announcing in September 2010 that he had consulted widely throughout Nigeria and would run for president. Jonathan won the presidential election convincingly, but his ruling People’s Democratic Party lost seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and PDP now holds four fewer governorships – down to 23 of 36.
In October 2010, the Jonathan Administration called for the fuel subsidy to be removed. The government’s decision was met with demonstrations and strikes by national unions. But while the unions agreed to end strikes and protests, the Joint Action Forum, a civil society affiliate of the unions, continued protests for a time throughout the country. The government responded with what human rights groups charged was excessive force. In northern Kano State, a student was shot to death in the course of breaking up a rally.
In addition to the resentment caused by government brutality in dealing with the largely youth-led fuel subsidy protests, high unemployment, resentment over perceived government corruption, and mismanagement and experience in organizing social protests may yet have a lasting impact on Nigerian politics and society.
The issues of excessive government force in the Niger Delta, northern Nigeria and other areas of the country over several past governments in Nigeria has fed resentment. Combined with the northern political opposition, the increasing resistance by minorities and the civil society political revolt, the Jonathan Administration faces significant forces arrayed against it. The questions our government must answer are: will this government withstand its opposition and what can we do to help Nigeria to remain Africa’s essential nation?
To view the hearing and read the testimony of the witnesses, click here.