Blasphemy Murders in Nigeria
(Douglas Burton and Masara Kim, July 16, 2022)
Transcript available below
About the speakers
Douglas Burton is a veteran reporter and news content producer based in Greenbelt, Maryland. In recent years he has put his energies into reporting terrorism in Nigeria, where he mentors a team of grassroots conflict reporters. Burton and some of his team were featured in a Fox Nation documentary on Nigeria produced by war correspondent Lara Logan in 2021. Burton put in decades as an assignment editor with The Washington Times corporation before heading to Iraq to help the occupation effort from 2005 dot 2007 and later reported the campaign to remove Islamic State from its base in Mosul, Iraq. Burton switched to Nigerian terrorism in 2019.
Masara Kim, 35, is a widely watched conflict reporter in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, from which he has contributed as a reporter to Fox Nation, The Epoch Times and other news media. Kim overcame a lost limb in his childhood and manages his print and photography output with only one arm. He recently published a groundbreaking investigation of mass rape as a tool of governance by terrorists in so-called ungoverned spaces of Nigeria’s Northwestern States.
Robert R. Reilly:
Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. Today, I am very happy to welcome to the Westminster Institute as a speaker, Douglas Burton, who has been a friend of ours for many years, who has contributed to a number of our Westminster gatherings, being there as a journalist and in other capacities. Doug has been a journalist for many years. He was a Washington Times assignment editor for a decade, after which he went to Iraq to help with the occupation effort there for two years. He remained to cover the removal of the Islamic State from its headquarters in Mosul. After that he returned to the United States and switched his attention to the subject of Nigeria, and particularly the persecution of Christians in that country, on which he has reported in very powerful and effective ways.
We are going to be joined from Nigeria in Jos [by] Masara Kim, who is also a reporter, and who has been covering some hair-raising stories in that country, and who has worked very closely with Doug Burton. Masara has contributed as a reporter to Fox Nation, The Epoch Times, and other news media. He recently published a groundbreaking investigation of mass rape as a tool of governance by terrorists in so-called ungoverned spaces of Nigeria’s northwestern states. Today, we are going to discuss how to understand the blasphemy murders in Nigeria and the broader context of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
Now, we are going to ask the viewers’ indulgence because Masara Kim is speaking to us from Nigeria many hours ahead in situations where the lighting changes, electricity was lost for some period of time, and whereas the picture is not of very high quality, the content that he provides is electrifying. Now, Doug, let me first turn to you and ask you to provide a little bit of that broader context of Nigeria today and where things stand in respect to this big question of the persecution of Christians.
Thank you, Robert. Of course, it is an honor to be again with Westminster, which is one of the foremost think tanks, you know, in my learning curve in the Washington area. Nigeria is a very consequential country. It is the largest country in terms of population in Africa. It is the wealthiest and it is getting bigger, it is expanding. It is going to be extremely important in the 21st century. It will have a population equal to the United States in just 23 years, but Nigeria is important because it is a U.S. ally and because it is a leading nation in West Africa. It is surrounded by countries that have very serious insurgencies, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad, and the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has been going on for 12 years. The government, the army, has attempted to defeat it, but has really only managed the conflict, never getting to the point of getting total victory.
And in the meantime, a new problem has emerged in the last three to four years, and that is radicalized, very large and threatening bandit gangs that are also guided by a jihadist vision, who also, like Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa, these gangs want to conquer large sections of territory, and if they succeed, they will overwhelm the government. The result could be an authoritarian Islamic state. It could be a caliphate, [but] more likely it is going to be a large corrupt regime like it is now, but even more corrupt and more toxic to the United States.
Contextualizing Nigeria’s Violence
Robert R. Reilly:
Alright, let me turn to Masara Kim in Nigeria, and ask about the June 5th massacre at a Catholic Church in Owo. Bishop Jude Arogundade gave some rather startling statistics to help us understand the plight of Christians in there. I am going to quote directly from [Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic News Agency]. Quote, “Whoever the culprits are, the attack underscores the fact that Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian. More than 4,650 Christians were killed there last year, roughly 13 per day, or about one killing every two hours, according to a report by the watchdog group Open Doors. That number represented 80% of such deaths the group recorded worldwide over a 12-month [reporting] period.”
Masara, what do you think of these horrifying figures, and also perhaps you could put them in the context of what the proportion of Muslims to Christians are in Nigeria, and what demographic pressures that might represent?
Yeah, I think that the estimate by the bishop is largely dependent on reported cases and reported deaths. There are hundreds of killings that are going on unreported in many [places], particularly rural communities, and what you ever see outside, particularly reported in the media, is what ever gets out, but a chunk of it actually never gets reported. And, well, thank God for Doug and what he has been doing to inspire us to report and tell our own story ourselves. I think we have been doing a lot of tracking of these incidents, but we never get to report all of them. Sometimes you do not get to hear of a particular incident until, you know, a month or so goes by, and sometimes it is very difficult to track some of these cases of attacks.
Violence is Under Reported
And to be honest, in many communities it is quite difficult to gather information to even get, you know, the reports because the locals, the victims themselves, are totally intimidated. The terrorists have completely intimidated them, and are tracking them, monitoring their conversations, who comes into their community and goes out, who calls them. They even track their mobile phones and track their communications. And just yesterday, I was trying to follow a particular story in the state of Zamfara in the northwest, and what I was told was that the terrorists had warned that no one should ever speak of the attacks in that community and anyone who ever spoke about it or speaks about it would be killed, and that according to the locals, it has happened in the past where people reported of the attacks and they were killed.
So many of these attacks are happening on a daily basis, but they never get reported so the estimates you have from the bishop and anyone else are just a tip of the iceberg, I can say. If all of it was reported, I think, like you say, it will be more than just horrifying, [it] maybe something much bigger. But actually, what it is here in Nigeria [is] Christians and other religious minorities are under consistent attacks and the government does not care about it.
You ask the question about the population of Christians versus that of the Muslims. According to latest estimates from 2018, Christians make up just about 45 percent of the population of Nigeria. And of course, in terms of birth rates, Muslims have the highest birth rates. They are allowed to marry as many wives as possible up to four. And imagine when each of the wives gives birth to four children, you know.
And of course, they have this system of child upbringing, you know, called the Almajiri system, where a child is brought forth and then he is just submitted to an imam somewhere. And you know, he is allowed to be to be raised in whatever way by the Islamic cleric. The parent has no concern and no responsibility whatsoever [for] how the child is brought up, and in what ways, and you know how this child even feels, you know.
But then, turning to the Christian side, it is quite different. The Christians will only marry one wife and only sometimes give birth to two or three children, as many as they can care for, and that to a large extent puts the population of Christians in Nigeria, you know, under threat because day in day out, they are outnumbering us. And of course, with the growing attacks and killings of Christians, which like I said are almost on a daily basis, the population of Christians is fast depleting. And that means that in the next five to ten years, Islam could take over Nigeria if the rate at which they are growing and the way rate at which Christian communities have been taken over, the rate at which Christians have been killed continues, it will not be long before Nigeria falls in the hands of terrorists.
So if the terrorists have Nigeria, it will be a near walkover, it will be an easy task to capture the whole of Africa because of the strategic position that, you know, Nigeria occupies in Africa. It has the largest population, it has the largest economy, it has one of the oldest democracies, and so taking Nigeria will be as good as taking Africa. And it is happening pretty fast with the increasing attacks on Christians. And like I said, it is grossly underreported, and I can personally put the number in the last 10 years to be between twenty to thirty thousand [killed].
Land Grabbing and Islamization
Robert R. Reilly:
Masara, Bishop Jude also spoke of the June 5th massacre at that church as part of a broader effort to establish an Islamic caliphate. What do you think of the Bishop’s characterization? Is that accurate?
Perfectly. The primary reason for these attacks is land grabbing and forceful Islamization. To start with, in Plateau State, for instance, we have had repeated attempts, you know, to set up what looks like a caliphate, maybe an emirate, you know, in Plateau State in areas that had been conquered and captured by the Islamic terrorists. I use a typical example of a town located about 25 to 30 miles southwest of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, which was attacked and captured precisely on this 11th of September. That was 9/11, 2001, exactly the day Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States and killed close to 3,000 people. In that attack, more than 200 people were killed and the entire village was sacked.
Those that survived, you know, were displaced completely and the terrorists settled in that community, and today, that community serves or exists as a launch pad for terrorist attacks, and that community again has existed as a no-go zone for Christians. No Christian goes there, and even former Muslims, Fulani Muslims, who are resident in those areas today are consistently under threat and attack.
As a matter of fact, on the 5th of October 2020, a former member of the terrorist gangs, a former Muslim actually, who converted to Christianity, went missing in that town. He was a member of that town since it was taken, and he had lived all his life in that town, but on the 5th of October, he was invited home for the funeral of his father. His father passed, and he was invited to come back home and bury his father. He came with two of his friends, and the three of them were kidnapped. The two other friends who were also former Muslims were killed right in front of him, and he was given a grace of a few days to renounce Christianity and accept Islam.
When he refused, I and my friends kept tracking [him], trying to see how we could rescue him, but before we could succeed, in a matter of days, he went missing, his lines were no longer connecting, and all the efforts to trace his whereabouts proved abortive. And to date, that former Muslim is nowhere to be found. No one knows what has become of him, but we believe that he has been killed.
There are a number of them in that town that have changed from their former ways and accepted Christianity, and some of them are killed. Some of them have had to leave the place to a safer zone, so it exists, actually, as a launch pad, a staging ground, actually, for more attacks on surrounding communities, and it also exists as a no-go zone for Christians. So to us, it exists, actually. I mean, it is already more of a mini caliphate because they have now their own mayor, they have their own form of government, and a local form of government that exists, and no one dares to challenge [them] or even tell them what to do, how to run their affairs.
The same thing has happened in a number of places. In the south of Plateau, in the communities of Kanam and Wase counties, there are emirates, Islamic emirates, which are more [like] mini caliphates. And you know, what we believe, actually, is that those communities, those counties, if allowed, could capture more communities, more counties, and forcefully convert them, you know, to Islamic territory and eventually annex them and add them to what we fear is fast becoming a caliphate.
Helicopter Attack in Maikori
Robert R. Reilly:
Masara, you reported on a village with a self-defense force that had been tipped off of a coming terrorist attack. A group of terrorists, three to a motorcycle, had hit a neighboring village and burned it down. They learned that as this other village learned of the coming attack, and was able to prepare for the terrorists’ arrival, and this Christian self-defense force began defending the village until, all of a sudden, a helicopter arrived and started firing, but on the wrong people, it appears. Could you describe that event to us and what the government behavior was in this incident?
Right, I believe you are talking about the attack of 5th of June, which happened at exactly the same time and day as the massacre of more than 70 parishioners in the southern State of Ondo. That attack was in the State of Kaduna. It is actually a neighboring state. I mean, it is just a few hours’ drive from my state of Plateau. It occurred in a county called Kajuru, and it is in a town called Maikori. What happened was that the Christians were having a Sunday service. They were having a church service, and they got a notice of an attack in the neighboring town called Dogan Noma, and they put up their local defense force and tried to defend, to ward off the attack, you know, of more than about 300 armed terrorists.
Well, we do not know for sure if it was the government, but what happened was that these terrorists came and were fiercely resisted, and even though they had higher firepower, [they lost]. I mean, the local defense was a team of about 50 members. [It] was outnumbered and their equipment was far inferior to that of the terrorists. They still were held at the border, at the entrance of the town, for several minutes until a military helicopter came by, flying and raining bullets, you know, at the defense force, apparently to create access for the terrorists.[The reason] why I said it rained bullets to create access for the terrorists is that they, the terrorists and the local defense force, were facing each other. I mean, they were standing not too far away from each other. Both teams were facing each other, and the distance between the two teams was not much, but then again, the helicopter came and could not fire at the terrorists, who apparently, you know, were visible from the point of the helicopter from the sky. They were actually visible. They were higher in number, and they had more sophisticated weapons. [As for] these local defense forces, apparently, they could actually see them and tell that these were civilians, and they could see them taking cover, you know, in the grasses and all that, but then again, the helicopter opened fire at them. As they tried to disperse, as they tried to retreat, the terrorists now advanced behind the helicopter under the cover of the helicopter fire, burning the houses, killing those they could find, and burning houses, burning churches, you know. And I think that what happened in that town, particularly as the government later claimed that the helicopter was from the Air Force, I think it was a conspiracy between the terrorists and the government.
Military Complicity and Censorship
And practically, that is what has been happening in all the communities that we have reported similar attacks. It is either the military stands by and watches, you know, terrorists take out an entire village, or they, themselves, participate. We have records of attacks or instances of attacks where the military even took [an] active [role], played active roles in the same state of Kaduna in between January and February.
We had instances where a forward operating base of the military located less than a mile from the scene of attack refused to respond. In Lawrence’s county, in a town called Ancha in the same January, there was an attack on the 14th of January [that] I remember very well. A team of soldiers in the town stood back and only tried to protect their own assets, their vehicles, and everything. They had an APC. They had gun trucks. They had AK-47s. A team of about 30 armed military men did not respond, and more than more than 30 people were killed in that attack. And increasingly, that is what has been happening.
And if you dare speak, whether as a reporter or as a victim, you are targeted. I have personally been jailed. In September 2020, I was jailed by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who himself is a Fulani and a Muslim, you know, the same group that has been blamed for all the massacres, the genocidal attacks, in Nigeria. I was jailed for simply reporting plans by some terrorists to carry out attacks in some communities, and the attacks actually happened as predicted.
Robert R. Reilly:
Tell me, Masara, were you able to identify who the terrorists were who attacked that village? I mean, could they be Fulani?
Yeah, actually, they are members of the Fulani tribe, but they are not completely from Nigeria. Douglas has reported about a man, a gangster, called Ali Kachalla, Ali Kawaji also known as Kachalla. He is actually a member of the Fulani tribe who was previously terrorizing communities and even annexing towns in northwestern Sokoto and Zamfara states, but recently, he migrated to Kaduna State, and his gang, according to our sources, is the one carrying out those attacks and kidnappings. It is like the natives, the Christians in Kaduna, particularly in the south of Kaduna, are living their lives for this man and his gang because they kidnap on a daily basis, rape on a daily basis, and kill on a daily basis.
As I talk with you, a group of women, about 21 women kidnapped on the 21st of June, are still with him and he is threatening to marry them off to his members if the Christians do not pay a ransom of about $240,000 dollars. He said that and at first people thought that they could negotiate. I mean, the locals thought they could negotiate with him, but increasingly, he has refused to shift grounds, he is still holding on to his guns, and he is saying he is not changing. He is not accepting anything less than that, and according to the locals, when he kidnaps, he does not just keep them, he rapes them, he forces [them, he] uses them as sex slaves.
And that is not just happening in the town [that] I have reported. That is in the Kachia area, but practically all of the southern Kaduna, Toko Kagarko, Toko Kafanchan, Toko Zangon Kataf, Toko Kajuru, Chikun, and all the counties in that access. And Christians in recent months [have been] paying levies to him. They have to literally pay him to allow them to even cultivate their farms. They cannot access their farms until they pay him. They have to literally pay some taxes to him to allow them to access their farms, and these are peasants, these are predominantly farmers. They do not have any other source of income except farming, and now they cannot go to cultivate their farms.
And of course, there are a few of them who are also into mining. They cannot go anywhere. They cannot go the mines and even find something for their family, so you have thousands of families displaced, and that is a huge humanitarian crisis that the government of Kaduna, which is actually led by Nasir el-Rufai, himself also a Muslim and a Fulani man, is completely unconcerned. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari is completely unconcerned. And if you speak, they send forces after you, they jail you, and they completely humiliate you, and I mean that is if they do not kill you.
Our colleague, Luka Binniyat, [who] I expected to see on this call, has been jailed twice, once in 2007 and last year, he was only released earlier this year, for simply reporting the failings, the failure of the government to protect the Christian minorities.
The Purpose of Blasphemy Murders in Nigeria
Robert R. Reilly:
Masara, could you tell us about the blasphemy murders in Nigeria, Deborah Emmanuel being one of the most notable recent examples? Are they serving any particular purpose for the people who commit them?
The reality is that blasphemy attacks and blasphemy murders are happening in Nigeria on a large scale, and they are happening frequently, but only the most brutal ones ever get reported. Take, for instance, an attack in a town called Katanga in a remote county in southeast Bauchi State on the 20th of May shortly after the murder of Miss Deborah Emmanuel. A woman was alleged to have blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad in a WhatsApp chat with her colleagues at work, and a band of more than 200 extremists gathered and mobilized to her house, and set in ablaze, and tried to kill her, but because she had already been warned earlier by a friend in the DSS, she left the town before the arrival. But they burned her house, burned several houses belonging to Christians, attacked 11 to 15 Christians in that town, they burned the church, burned businesses owned by Christians in the town, all in the name of avenging or seeking justice for their so-called religious leader.
Now, save for a WhatsApp chat that I had with a friend in the State of Bauchi, I never knew that anything like that had happened. I never knew that anything like that was ever happening in the State of Bauchi. [It is] just about 150 miles from my town, but I did not know that anything like that was happening. And so many of such attacks are happening, but because the victims do not have a voice, they do not have access to the media, they do not have access to the internet, these attacks often go unreported, but they are indeed happening.
By the way, Miss Naomi Goni, that is her name, the woman that was accused of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad after the attack [and] killing of Debra on May 12th, she is still in custody. The police in Bauchi State eventually arrested her and jailed her, and last Monday she was in court. Her lawyers tried to get a bail for her, but she was denied by the court. Now, that attack actually followed a similar incident in the State of Borno, where you have Boko Haram killing Christians on the one hand, [and] the government, the Muslim government of Borno State, also persecuting Christians on the other hand.
We have had as many as ten churches demolished by the government of Professor Babagana Zulum in Borno, you know, and several Christians [were fired] from their jobs just for their faith. And of course, you have on another hand, extremists, Muslim Islamic extremists, attacking and persecuting Christians, making life a complete hell for Christians in that town. A young lady commented on a post after the murder of Deborah. That was about three days after the murder of Deborah. She commented on a post and said why are you people fighting for God? If He is really God, why don’t you allow him to fight for Himself? And they copied that post and spread it around, and said she had blasphemed Prophet Muhammad, she had blasphemed Allah, and therefore she deserved to be killed.
The only thing that saved her was that she was related to a military officer, and so they tried to locate her, and they traced her to the military barracks, the army barrack in Maiduguri. And that was why, that was the only thing that stopped them from killing her. However, the police picked her up and locked her up. I am still trying to find out what has become of her, but as of 30th of June, we learned she was still in custody.
Now, again, after the attack, those particular incidents on the fourth of June, there was another attack in the Lube suburb of Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, where a member of a civilian watch group was killed, a Muslim actually, but he was killed by his own fellow Muslims for simply making a comment that they interpreted to be blasphemy. A few days later, a young lady in the State of Lagos was also killed by Muslim extremists who accused her of keeping the Qur’an, a copy of the Qur’an, in her room. Now, these things are happening repeatedly, and the government does not care.
Is Nigeria a Failed State?
Robert R. Reilly:
Doug Burton, let me ask you about the murders of five priests in Nigeria. Another priest reacting to them said this is an indication that Nigeria is headed toward being a failed state. Do you think that is accurate?
Yeah, without a doubt. Robert, the founder of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), which would be Stephen Enada, has said many times Nigeria is a failed state and has been for a couple of years. But let us remember it is not a failed state according to the view of the Fulani or probably of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is Fulani. From his point of view, it is a very successful state because their idea is to create uniform control over the country, and to establish Islam as the dominant religion everywhere, and to make it very difficult for Christians to have equal rights and equal representation, so from their point of view, Nigeria is doing pretty good.
Designating Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern
Robert R. Reilly:
Nigeria had been designated by the U.S. State Department for some of the reasons indicated during this interview with you and Masara as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), which was related exactly to the persecution of Christians. And now that designation to the surprise of many has been removed. Can you comment about that?
Sure, I have written about it. Secretary Antony Blinken just arbitrarily removed that label. Now, that is an unfavorable label and it is only used for those countries that have egregiously bad human rights records, which Nigeria does have, so that was a designation assigned to it by the Trump administration in 2020. And just a couple of weeks before Secretary Blinken made a goodwill tour to Nigeria and two other African countries, he removed that designation, but with no explanation, and it has been a cause of protest.
Well, the fact is that the U.S. State Department wants to engage with Nigeria for economic reasons. They want Nigeria’s cooperation in remediating climate change. They also want to facilitate the sale of U.S. products, technology including military technology, as well as climate change abatement technology and medicines, vaccines for example, and if the Nigerian government does not cooperate, as it was not cooperating under the CPC label, then they are not going to be able to engage, so they just made a pragmatic decision to the detriment of the Christians, who are dying every day at the number of thirteen Christians killed in Nigeria every single day.
Robert R. Reilly:
And Masara thinks maybe even more than that.
Absolutely, there are higher estimates for sure.
The International Neglect of Nigeria
Robert R. Reilly:
So let us talk about the reaction to this. As Bishop Jude said, this represents 80 percent of the Christians killed each year, and sometimes a great deal of attention is taken concerning the persecution of Christians in China, or maybe Pakistan, or Egypt, but we hear very little about Nigeria. Why is that?
Well, you know, the fact is that Nigeria is five thousand miles away. The people there do not look like the people in Ukraine. They are not all Roman Catholic. They do have a diaspora in the United States, which is fairly big, probably about a million people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, [it is] at least 500,000. But the Nigerians do not lobby for their friends back in Nigeria, that is [to say that] the Nigerian expatriates – and there are many – do not typically lobby Congress to protest the persecution of Nigerians back home, in contrast, say, to the way American Jews loudly protested the oppression of Russian Jews in the latter part of the Cold War period.
Also, another factor is that the media in the United States thinks that the American people cannot understand Nigeria because it is just too complex. Then this is complicated by the fact that the Nigerian media itself is not telling the truth. The reason for that is it is largely compliant to the Nigerian central government, which controls it through bribes and through pressures and intimidation, and the fact that if Nigerian journalists tell the truth, they are going to be marginalized.
Sometimes they are going to be put in jail, like one of my colleagues who has written for the Epoch Times, Mr. Luka Binniyat. He is a veteran journalist. He was jailed in December of last year for three months. He has health problems. It is the second time he has been jailed because he ran afoul of the authorities, so it can be very dangerous for the Nigerian journalists [like] Masara Kim, for example. Two years ago, he was jailed by the secret police. He was [detained for] several days.
Now, when you go to prison in Nigeria, you have got to realize the conditions are very, very stressful. It is very unsanitary. I know of several journalists who have come out of these prisons [with] all kinds of diseases they get, like they got hepatitis, they got malaria. It is really dangerous for them. It is not just unpleasant.
So this is the reason we have formed this little group called Rural Watch, whereby we are seeking to show the other side, and show what the victims are experiencing, and telling the stories that the Nigerian journalists typically do not tell, which is such factors as how far away the police were when an attack happened, what was the response time, what did the police say, did they arrest any suspects. Usually, they do not even arrest any suspects after these atrocities.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, you and Masara, Lawrence Zongo, and others with whom you work have been writing some very, very powerful material. Why isn’t this resonating in southern Nigeria when half of the country is Christian? Why aren’t their voices heard concerning their persecuted brethren in central Nigeria and the north?
That is a key question and that is the topic that has been raised that has been followed by a very committed evangelist in the United States named Charles Akutamina. And Charles is from the south of Nigeria, he is Yoruba, and he points out that the Nigerians in the south of the country do not relate to or identify with the Nigerians in the north part who are chiefly of the Hausa background, so the south Nigerians are either [of] a Yoruba tribe in the southwest or they are Igbo in the southeast, so they have a cultural problem within their own country.
They tend to think that the Hausa Christians should take care of things by themselves, or they are responsible somehow, so they do not show common cause. This is one of the challenges of the folks working on the state side like the International Committee on Nigeria. They are seeking to rally the Nigerians in the United States and the West, like in London, to see the common plight of the whole nation regardless of tribal background, but increasingly, the Nigerians are realizing that if they do not [come together], like Benjamin Franklin said, if we do not hang together, we will all hang separately. They are realizing that they have to identify this government as the tool of oppression, which has very successfully separated, divided the country, pitted the Christian groups against each other, [and] pitted the tolerant Muslims against the intolerant Muslims.
They have been very good at politics and very good [at manipulation]. This government is superbly effective at manipulating media. It has got a number of false narratives about what the root cause of the terrorism is, that they have effectively implemented. And they have learned a lot from the U.S. media. They have learned how to pick up, to create false narratives and filter them down through the media, and to fuzz up the picture so that [when] an atrocity happens, the local media do not explain what the cause of it is, who did it, whether any suspects were arrested. And then after a couple of days, everyone has forgot about it.
What is the Answer for Nigeria’s Christians?
Robert R. Reilly:
Before we get to those false narratives, which is a very fascinating question, what happens, what is the answer for those Christians in central and north Nigeria? [Is it] those self-defense forces, that they have to protect themselves because the police and military are standing off when they are attacked?
Well, Robert, I mean, you and I come from families that own guns. I know my ancestors were soldiers in the world wars, World War I and World War II. My great grandfather was a teenage soldier in the U.S. civil war. He was a confederate soldier. So to us, it is natural. It is inborn in us that we have to defend ourselves with weapons, but Nigeria has a very vigorous gun control regime that has essentially disarmed the sedentary farmers. They are only allowed to have hunting guns that they have made themselves, they are called Dane guns, and so they are at a huge disadvantage.
Meanwhile, the offensive force, the herding people, the so-called herding people who are in the great majority they are Fulani people, and they have been herding-people for centuries and centuries. They all have rifles and many of them have AK-47s. The government never disarms them. They are never prosecuted for owning illegal weapons, so there is a huge differential. The U.S. media has not ever reported about this as far as I know, but it is obvious [that] there are hundreds of thousands of terrorists walking around the country, herding cattle, holding the AK-47 on their shoulders.
Who is Arming Nigeria’s Terrorists?
Robert R. Reilly:
Where do they get these weapons?
Yeah, well, they get them within Nigeria. There are tons of guns available. They get them from the Nigerian military for one thing. This is one of the stories that Lawrence Zongo published just two years ago. In May 2020, after a village massacre in the eastern Kaduna, a Fulani terrorist was killed by a civilian guard guy, and he dropped his cell phone, so Lawrence and I managed to get that cell phone and Lawrence called up the numbers on it, and guess who was on the phone.
Well, it was the local police officer. Also, there was the number of a non-commissioned officer at the army barracks in the neighboring State of Bauchi. He was selling the rifles, and when Lawrence called him up, the guy said, yeah, sure, we have got everything you need, just come by. So that was just a minor illustration of how some of the guns are acquired, so there are stories that their rifles have been shipped in from Libya, maybe from Persian Gulf entities so the guns are coming in from other countries, but the fact is the terrorists and the ISIS people do not have to buy them overseas. They are already in the country.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, let us get on to those false narratives, and it seems there are two major ones. One improbably enough is that this is a result of climate change, and then number two, and you can address them in any order you like, is that this is a long-standing dispute between the animal herders and the farmers kind of characterized as the old American West between the cattlemen and the farmers, and this has a natural tension to it, and those cattle herders are the Fulani, and many of those farmers are Christians, and that is the problem rather than sectarian religious differences. So, could you address those two [narratives]?
Farmer Herder Conflict
Both of these explanations have a modicum of truth. Now, of course, there has been farmer herder conflict in Africa for decades, in fact, for thousands of years. Of course, there is farmer herder conflict. I mean, it is biblical. It is the conflict between Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis, but it is greatly exaggerated. Let me give you an example. We know of the famous cattle herding tribe in Kenya, the Maasai, correct? Well, in recent decades the Maasai have been displaced in large numbers because of farming and tourism. We do not have any accounts of the Maasai warriors massacring hundreds of people in villages, and burning down hundreds of villages, and renaming them. Well, why not? Well, the reason is that the Maasai warriors are peace-loving people, and they are not pursuing jihadism
The fact is that the sectarian hatred in Nigeria has been there for many decades. It is actually a subdued theme within the ruling party that is controlling the government right now. President Muhammadu Buhari is on record pronouncing many of these Jihadist phrases for years. He is the head of the Cattlemen’s Association in Nigeria. He is considered the foremost Fulani leader. There are many reports going back years that show that he wanted to moderate the negotiations with Boko Haram going back to 2013. There has been a disparate treatment of Muslim radicals and Christian farmers in Nigeria, so the farmer herder narrative is simply a cover story.
And the other narrative you mentioned is about climate change. Well, climate change is happening, but it is greatly exaggerated. One thing that is often not mentioned is the soaring population of Nigeria. Now, there is increasing aridity in the Sahel region. However, keep in mind that some of the deterioration of the conditions is due to a greatly increasing population. In the three years I have been reporting and talking to people in Nigeria, never once has someone mentioned to me that the problem is climate change. It is a theory.
It is an explanation that the NGOs like, the academics like it, and our own State Department loves this [narrative] because they are supporting the U.S. goal to engage Nigeria economically and they want this government to help them win the great competition with China, but as Assistant Secretary Robert Destro has said many times, if you say that the root problem is climate change, what you are really saying is there is really no solution because nobody can change the climate really. Some people think that the climate change narrative is nonsensical anyway, it is very controversial, but if you think that is really the problem, and what you are saying is we can never solve that problem, therefore let us focus on what we think we can do, let us, you know, sell weapons to the Nigerian government, let us sell them food stuffs or pharmaceuticals, therefore it is leaving the Nigerian Christians hanging out to dry.
And let me just mention one thing. The climate czar, former Senator John Kerry, said recently [that] the United States has to choose between remediating climate change and human rights. We cannot have them both because People’s Republic of China has told us that it is not going to engage with us on climate change if we keep emphasizing human rights, so he says, okay, well, then we have to make a hard choice, we are not going to emphasize human rights. This is absurd. This is absurd and it is a miscarriage of justice. It is malpractice of diplomacy, and it is contributing to a genocide that is happening on our watch.
Robert R. Reilly:
Can you talk for a moment about China’s presence in Nigeria and how that is making itself felt?
Sure, China is the number one trading partner with Nigeria. It is the number one lender, and it is financing many multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects such as roads, railroads, [and] telecommunications. There are hundreds of Chinese companies that are [inside Nigeria], that are planted in Nigeria to exploit its mining resources. Nigeria has huge mining resources, chiefly gold, copper, [and] some rare earth mental minerals. It has very, very large reservoirs of oil. There are unexplored reservoirs of oil. It has deposits of nickel, which are essential for the cadmium batteries for electric vehicles.
China has chosen Nigeria as one of the key countries for its Belt and Road project, so that is why Under Secretary Victoria Nuland visited Nigeria just a couple of weeks ago. As part of her three-nation tour, she visited three countries: Djibouti, where the Chinese are developing a port in the Strait of Hormuz, and also, she went to Mozambique, where there is a very hot and very threatening al-Qaeda insurgency [and] there is Al Shabab there. And then she visited Nigeria.
So, China has great plans for Nigeria, and incidentally, it is surprising to many people that hundreds of Nigerian college students are studying in China now. China has become a destination for postgraduate education. These Nigerians learn Chinese fluently, they come back to Nigeria, they work for Chinese companies, or they work in the Nigerian government, becoming essential assets for the Chinese government afterwards.
The Goal of Blasphemy Murders
Robert R. Reilly:
Just to return to the question of Christian persecution as we close this out, do you agree that these blasphemy murders are serving a larger ideological purpose of galvanizing the Muslim population or radicalizing it against Christians by making these accusations that Christians have blasphemed or mistreated the Qur’an or Muhammad’s name?
Well, I think it is obvious that the blasphemy accusations are superficial, like Deborah Emmanuel, for example. She did not mention the Prophet Muhammad by name. She made no explicit blasphemy. Certainly, she was not tried in public as the Sharia law would require. The murder of Deborah Emmanuel was simply a pretext for killing someone who is considered to be uppity, someone who did not accept the bullying of a Muslim classmate, someone who seemed to be a nail that was sticking up that had to be hammered down. And there are cases of other hapless Christians in the north who are being prosecuted for blasphemy now, and some Muslims who have been burned to death like just recently in the capital of Abuja for blasphemy.
It is more logical to see these murders as energizing efforts. These are efforts to energize the base. We are maybe five months away from national elections in 2023, and the Muslim [extremists] would like to make it a referendum between Islam and Christianity. They want to depict the Christians as hostile, as against the Holy Book, and as the ultimate enemy, and there is no better way to do that than to find [people], to target certain people, and depict them as blasphemers.
Robert R. Reilly:
So the extent to which this religious persecution is going to be an issue in these upcoming elections, it is going to be characterized in the way you just mentioned.
Well, I think for the radicals that is the way they want to see it. We see increasing attacks in the area of the federal capital. Just yesterday or two days ago, the Governor of Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom, has said that the radicalized groups, the bandits who are doing these big attacks like derailing trains, which they did in March, or the prison break just a week ago, a medium security prison was raided and a thousand inmates got away, many of them Boko Haram, many of them leaders of these bandit groups, and clearly it was a prison break that was facilitated by people in the authorities themselves, he has said that the purpose of these attacks, all the incidents we are seeing now, is to disrupt or to circumvent the elections in February of next year.
The radicals would like to stop the elections, or they would like to postpone them, or they would like to destabilize them. They would like to humiliate the government. The blasphemy murders help them show that the government is impotent, that people cannot get protection from them, which motivates many people to simply acquiesce to what the terrorists are demanding.
And Robert, you and I were in Iraq. This is exactly the behavior of al-Qaeda in Iraq. This is exactly how they subjugated large swaths of the population. They intimidate, then they demonstrate their superior power by killing people. They kill them publicly, they humiliate them. You mentioned Masara Kim did this story about mass rape, the bandit gangs in the northwestern states, and for example in Niger and Zamfara, they are raping women in front of their husbands. They are raping women publicly, 50 or 100 at a time in front of their husbands. Now, what is the purpose of that if not to simply humiliate the men, and to impress upon the whole population that the jihadist bandits are the supreme authority, and whoever is not with them has to be subjugated and has to be hurt, [and] has to be put in their place.
The Nigerian Government’s Neglect
Robert R. Reilly:
Since it is their purpose to show the impotence of the government, why isn’t the government taking firmer action against them for its own survival?
The government has said, according to our own State Department and according to the Voice of America, which is very close to the government and tries to show the government’s argument, they would say, well, the Nigerian forces are scattered, they are overwhelmed, they are underfunded, and they have too much territory to cover. Well, that is partly true, but remember Nigeria is the wealthiest country in West Africa. Now, they are putting billions and billions of dollars into the defense establishment every year.
Where is it all going to?
It is true that the ISIS insurgents account for about thirty thousand soldiers, according to our security expert David Otto, and there is somewhere between ten thousand and thirty thousand bandits in the northwest. Okay, the Nigerian army has a force of over two hundred thousand, maybe up to three hundred thousand, armed men if you include the adjunct forces at the civilian [or the] community level. And also, they have aircraft, which the bandits do not have. They have aircraft that we have provided. [They have] the 12 Tucano fighter aircraft and so forth.
Now, are they using this equipment effectively? Well, we see in the Kajuru attack on June 5th they are using this equipment against their own people because they are using it against these local civilian guards. Is this a government we can trust? No, it does not appear to be to me. Is this a government that should have the status of a U.S. ally? Well, that is a discussion we should have.
Robert R. Reilly:
Alright, well, I am afraid we are out of time right now, and I would like to thank Douglas Burton for joining us to discuss this issue of the meaning of the blasphemy murders in Nigeria within the larger context of the persecution of Christians there, and Masara Kim from Jos, Nigeria. I want to thank you for joining us today. I invite our viewers to go to the Westminster Institute webpage to see what other videos we have on offer and publications covering this subject as well as the Russia-Ukraine war, the China-Taiwan tensions, and other problems in the Middle East. Thank you for joining us. I am Robert Reilly.