Mounting Violence in Nigeria Tests Trump’s Africa Policy
A wave of gruesome mass killings in North Central Nigeria on Sunday, March 10, has prompted more calls for a special envoy to Nigeria and reconsideration of the Trump administration’s policy to West Africa.
Approximately 120 Christian residents in villages west of the city of Kafanchan, Nigeria, were shot and hacked to death by machete-wielding terrorists, according to press reports and eye-witness accounts of clergy attending the wounded survivors. ThisDay Live, a Nigerian newspaper, reports that herders of the Fulani ethnic group killed 85 in attacks Sunday and Monday in the Kaduna State in two governing areas. Clergy on the ground near the killings say the death toll is at least 130.
“Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC) condemns the appalling loss of life in Nigeria on Sunday due to ethnic cleansing of Christian residents in North Central Nigeria. We reiterate the call for the Trump administration to send a special envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region so that greater resources from the West can assist the Nigerian military to remediate a worsening crisis,” said Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians.
All of the victims in the villages of Anguwan Barde, Maro, and Dogonoma were Christians, chiefly women and children, according to Rev. Gideon Mutum of Governors Assembly Church in Kafanchan, who spoke by telephone on Tuesday, March 12. “The attackers were as many as 400 and began killing people at 7:30 a.m. Sunday,” Mutum said. He added that 19 people are recovering from wounds at local hospitals. Pastor Sabo Emmanuel of Harvesters for Christ ministry said by telephone that the killings were incited by a false claim by Kaduna State government in the days prior to the planned presidential election on Feb. 16. The governor, Nasir El-Rufai, has claimed that 66 Fulani herders had been murdered on Feb. 11 by their enemies. A story carried by Nigeria’s Premium News on Feb. 22 reported the claim of the Fulani cattle breeders’ association that 131 Fulani herders had been murdered, including the name list of the victims.
“That is fake news,” according to Father Matthew Gajere, a Roman Catholic priest in Kaduna State who is visiting victims recovering in the local hospitals. The governor has no evidence for his claim. He cannot refer to any burial sites or graves of the so-called victims, whereas all the graves of Christian victims are well marked, according to Father Gajere. “We believe the governor used that crisis to postpone the elections. The next day the governor was pressed for proof of the killings, but he had none. Instead, he said the number of Fulani dead had risen to 131. Immediately, we started to have attacks in many villages,” Pastor Emmanuel said. “There was no attack on Fulani herders on Feb. 11, nothing like that,” according to Emmanuel.
“The survivors told me the herdsmen entered the village of Maro after surrounding it with guards for at least four hours, and during this time there were no police or security personnel seen,” he said by telephone. “I called the security multiple times on Monday, but they wouldn’t answer. I called the chairman of the local government area, too, but he wouldn’t take my call,” Father Gajere said.
The local governing area has been criminally negligent in its response to the carnage, according to a press release of the Adara Development Association, which represents the community that suffered the murders. Nigerian expatriates in the United States have echoed this accusation and point out that no local security arrived to defend the local villagers despite frantic calls for hours on Feb. 11. Many of the residents reportedly allege that Nigerian security forces are complicit in the attacks.
The most recent incidents, horrific as they are, must be seen in the context of the ongoing ethnic conflict between Nigeria’s chiefly Christian farmers and chiefly Muslim herders that has been ongoing for two decades. The caliphate-seeking terrorist group known as Boko Haram, surfacing in 2009 and affiliated with Islamic State since 2015, has murdered more people in Nigeria than Islamic State has done in the Middle East, yet it is rarely covered in major media, leading Frank Gaffney, president of STPC, to condemn the media’s “conspiracy of silence.”
“There have been a series of massacres in Nigeria going back to year 2000 when there were riots between Christians and Muslims over the imposition of Sharia law in Kaduna, and at that time up to 5,000 people were killed,” said Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch and a former State Department official. “There have been repeated Muslim attacks on Christians for years, even in the capital of Abuja. The Fulani ethnic group has been infiltrated by ISIS through Boko Haram,” Stanton said.
The killing wave in Nigeria reminds some of the mass killings in Rwanda in 1994. “There were trial massacres done by the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda in 1993. The Hutu movement murdered a small number of Tutsis in defined areas to see if the foreign ambassadors and international community would push back, but there was none. In 1994 the massive genocide was launched,” Stanton said.
The Trump administration has made clear that it is not the world’s policeman and has been hard-pressed to safely extricate the US military from its 16-year engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In December National Security Advisor John Bolton rolled out the White House’s new “Africa Strategy” at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and this strategy emphasized three pillars, as reported by Col. Chris Wyatt, director of African Studies at the US Army War College.
These pillars are the following: advance US trade and commercial ties; counter the threat from radical Islamic terrorism; and finally, ensure US taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently.
The importance of US trade with Nigeria is obvious: it is the wealthiest and most populated nation in Africa, and it is a major oil producer, ranking as the thirteenth largest in the world. The threat to that commercial relationship is the unraveling of economic stability due to rising violence of the terrorist insurgency and the deepening crisis of the Fulani Muslim herdsmen on Christian farmers. Longstanding US policy is to subsidize nations that defend the religious freedom of all religious minorities, including Christians. American policymakers since the founding in 1787 determined that religious freedom is the basis for all freedoms. Failed states such as Cuba, Iran, and Sudan are among the worst oppressors of Christians. Nigerian expats have expressed concern that Nigeria’s emerging democracy is sliding ineluctably toward failed state status in the next decade. “If Nigeria falls under Islamic dictatorship, its problem won’t stay in Africa; it will come to the United States,” says Dr. Oluwasayo Ajiboye, who was raised in Nigeria and now teaches at a Christian seminary in Texas. Ajiboye returned from Nigeria on Feb. 10 after nine days in the country’s seven northern states, where he interviewed hundreds of victims in 10 cities. Having heard the stories of hundreds of widows in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, he remarked, “I now know what Post-Traumatic Syndrome is. For three days, I wept almost constantly.”
Nigerian emigrants have a strong presence in the United States, currently constituting six percent of all foreign-born residents. The Nigeria-based Redeemed Christian Church of God alone has 800 congregations, including a cluster of 40 churches in the Washington, DC, suburbs.
A growing movement of churches and human rights groups are joining STPC’s call for a special envoy to West Africa who can bring a strong team of military and intelligence advisors with him or her. State Department officials have told advocates with STPC it already has dispatched a “special coordinator” with those powers, Ambassador Dan Mozena.
In 2014, the Obama State Department recalled Mozena from retirement and tasked him with coordinating the US diplomatic effort against the militants. Activists and observers say they see no results of his efforts. Requests for comment from the Department of State for this article went unreturned.
“Ambassador Mozena has done nothing to remediate the threat of Boko Haram,” according to Stephen Enada, head of the International Committee on Nigeria. “Mozena served in Nigeria from 2015 to 2016 and maybe is still there, yet his reports have been a disaster. If he is doing something behind the scenes to stop the terrorists, why are we seeing so much killing going on?”
Enada says the appointment of a special envoy from the United States is crucial to winning the fight against terror. For the hapless farmers in northern states of Nigeria, help can’t come soon enough.
Douglas Burton is a former State Department official who served in Iraq and writes on terrorism and national security issues in Africa and the Middle East.
Photo Credit: Men march along a truck carrying coffins of people killed by the Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria, January 11, 2018. By Reuters, Afolabi Sotunde.