Christian Persecution in Nigeria
(Robert A. Destro and Mark Jacob Nzamah, August 28, 2021)
Transcript available below
About the speakers
Robert A. Destro is Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has recently served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor. Professor Destro also served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He is the co-author of the book Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society.
Mark Jacob Nzamah is a barrister in Abuja. He is the former Attorney General of Kaduna State and former national legal adviser of the then-ruling People Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009 afterwards he was director of legal services federal airports authority. He is currently engaged in private legal practice and advocacy for the rights of minority indigenous people.
Robert R. Reilly:
Hello, I am Robert Reilly, the Director of the Westminster Institute. Welcome to our program on Nigeria and the subject of Christian persecution. In late 2020 the U.S. State Department added Nigeria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern, which names governments that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Apparently, Nigeria is the first democracy ever added to the list. Also, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has warned of a potential “Christian genocide.”
Joining me today to discuss this troubling situation are two guests. Robert Destro is Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has recently served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor. Professor Destro also served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He is the co-author of the book Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society.
Joining us from Nigeria, Mark Jacob is a barrister in Abuja. He is the former Attorney General of Kaduna State, and former national legal adviser of the then-ruling People Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009. Afterwards he was Director of Legal Services Federal Airports Authority. He is currently engaged in private legal practice and advocacy for the rights of minority indigenous people. Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Thanks for having us.
Robert R. Reilly:
Perhaps, Mark Jacob, you could begin by providing some broad background of this subject matter we are about to treat.
Thank you, Bob, for giving us this opportunity to speak on this subject, and I would like to start by saying that what I will be talking about is based on factual events that I have primary knowledge of; I am not talking from second guess or hearsay position. The events or circumstances I will be speaking on are events and issues that I am closely related to. I have been part of several mass burials. I have been part of enlightenment and encouragement of motivational events to encourage victims and survivors of some of these events. It has been a painful experience since around 2014 when unprecedented killings, selected killings of Christians particularly in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria, commenced, heightened, and taken to a very high level in 2015, 2016.
It got so dangerously unprecedented that we had to organize a lot of outreaches, a lot of discussions in the social media and in the formal media to draw attention to the atrocities being undertaken in the very face and before the eyes of a so-called democratic government. We had to highlight that atrocities against citizens are being committed across several states of Nigeria that we refer to as the Middle Belt, and that the events and the killings are not at all traceable to climate change, which is what some people wanted to push across to the world, that climate change has caused a shrinking of grazing land, and therefore Fulani herdsmen, seeking land to take care of their cattle, are driving down to the south and now coming into the Middle Belt, and disabuse the minds of people from that narrative because it is not true.
The events surrounding us between 2015 and 2017 to date are completely not as a result of climate change. They are all organized crimes, a genocide that is ongoing and is being precipitated by an organized team of sophisticatedly armed militia, made mainly of the Fulani tribal group. They are organized. They are well trained. They are well armed and they moved from village to village, from town to town, from community to community.
And when we raised alarm over this some years ago, some people say that it was a general issue, that the attacks were not religious, they were not selective, but the point is very clear. I want to emphasize that all the attacks have religion as the very background and the purveyor of the attacks. The attackers come into your community and they are shouting the Islamic slogan of Allahu Akbar.
They come into a community. If there is a church, it is destroyed. If there is a pastorium, that pastorium is attacked. Anybody found there is killed and the building is destroyed. If there is a mosque in the village or in the town, the mosque is spared and the occupants of the mosque are not touched, and the homes of Muslims in those communities are spared, they are not touched, so when people begin to say that it has no religious coloration, it is just falsehood. And we have said it over and over again that the Nigerian government, particularly from 2015 has, in total disobedience to the Constitution of Nigeria, taken sides with the attackers.
Who is arming these groups?
Robert R. Reilly:
Yes, sorry, I do not mean to divert you from these excellent remarks, but I just wanted you to stop for a moment and answer the question; when you say these organized Fulani groups that perpetrate these attacks are well armed, could you just take a moment to explain who is arming them?
Well, I will start from the perspective pushed forward by the Nigerian government. The Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and his handlers have on several occasions claimed that the Fulani attackers get their arms from Libya, that the conflict in Libya made arms and ammunition available to several groups, and as far as the President of Nigeria was concerned most of these attackers and their arms come from Libya. That is the perspective that the Nigerian government officially has given as far as the source of arms are concerned.
But we are also not oblivious of the fact that the Islamic world is organized in this matter. Several Islamic countries are alleged to be funding and supporting these attacks because the entire program is described as a jihad, is described as an attempt to Islamize the territories, and that is why the attacks take on the Islamic coloration and they use the Islamic language and slogan, mobilizing those who do the attacks. And they have a great following in Nigeria.
So as I said we are seeing this happen from state to state, from community to community. It has happened. In fact, it started very harshly in Plateau State around 2010, 2011, 2012. By 2014 it was at its highest, and it got worse by 2015 and 2016 in Plateau State. People thought that it would end there, but it has spread [to] the southern part of Kaduna State. It has spread to Nasaruwa State. It has spread to Benue State. And the records are there for everybody to see.
These are Christian communities, predominantly Christian communities, that are brought under severe attacks, and these attacks take the shape of nighttime attacks. Villagers will be sleeping, and the village will be surrounded, and the shooting commences. Once you run out of your house, they either shoot you or they follow you with their daggers and hack you down. And as you are running, they are looting properties from the houses while another group is setting the houses on fire. And we have seen this repeated the same pattern in most of all of the villages, and it is ongoing.
Thousands are in IDP camps with governments doing little or nothing except in Benue State where the governor has gone all out to side or to take a position with the people. Now, in Kaduna state where thousands were chased out of their communities, they were left at the mercy of faith-based organizations or individuals to fend for themselves. Others found succor in the houses of friends or relations. And for years that has been the situation. There is no organized intervention from government as far as the IDPs are concerned. We have thousands of internally displaced persons and they have been left to their own faith.
Education has been permanently disrupted. Children no longer go to school in most of these communities because if the schools were not destroyed, they have been turned into the IDP camps, so education for most parts of the past three years has been stunted. And in Kaduna State currently most of the secondary and tertiary decisions are crossed because these killers adopted the style of going to schools to kidnap school children.
Kaduna State has had the highest number of school kidnappings. As I speak to you over a hundred school children are still in captivity from a Baptist secondary school, and there is no effort from government to rescue these children. What is happening is that peoples from schools are kidnapped and the parents are left alone to negotiate with the kidnappers and pay ransom before their wards are released from the kidnappers.
And it is open. It is open and known, the location where these people are [located] is known. The villagers will tell you that they hear them singing and dancing after their attacks. Government will sit down and do nothing. We have a claim by the Nigerian metro agency that they have total radar coverage of Nigeria, but it is shocking that with all the aircrafts that belong to the Nigerian Air Force, that belong to even the navy, the customs, that the location of these kidnappers is not visited by the government forces to either free the victims of these kidnappings or to confront the kidnappers. So it is a free reign.
And we are seeing pictures and videos of these kidnappers. When one of the Islamic leaders took the effort of visiting the camps of these kidnappers, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi was escorted by Nigerian security agencies to visit all the camps of these kidnappers, and they were recorded on video, pictures were taken, and they stated their grievances. They said their grievances are against the government of Nigeria, that the government of Nigeria has not been treating them nicely, the government of Nigeria has not been giving them contracts, has not given them accommodation, education, has not given them economic succor like they do to other people in the country, and because of that as far as they are concerned that is why they are doing what they are with the kidnappings, that a select group will launch [or] mount [a] war against a sovereign state.
And that that will be condoned and continuously condoned is what baffles us as citizens of Nigeria. We have a situation where people have come out openly to challenge the federal government of Nigeria to come out and fight. They have boasted that they have capacity to to handle the Nigerian military and sometimes they display their weapons. You see rocket launchers. In fact, they posted that they now have anti-aircraft missiles that can bring down Nigerian military or air force airplanes, and they demonstrated the seriousness of that a month ago when they brought down one of the Air Force jets, and nothing has happened.
So as we speak Nigerians are totally helpless. You survive only by god’s will, and we have not failed, and we cannot close our eyes or pretend that we do not see the religious slant in the approach of government and the approach of the attackers. They are totally in unison. The entire arms-bearing agencies of government have been skewed to the Muslims, either the investigatory organizations like the NIA, the DISS, the Nigerian army, the Nigerian air force, everything since 2015. This government made sure that all the people heading these organizations were Muslims, and despite the outcry of Nigerian citizens, all complaints were drawn to the wind. The government, the federal government, ignored all efforts and cries by Nigerians to mix, to have a mixture of leadership at least at that level.
Today, the entire Nigerian security apparatus can meet in a mosque because actually all of them are Muslims. In a country that has such a religious mix this is not correct. This is not healthy. Even [if] a government is sincere, it speaks volumes about sincerity in that you make sure that all the heads of the arms-bearing agencies of government that have the power to enforce law, they have the duty and responsibility of chasing crime and stopping crime, are all Muslims. And this has aided and connived and has given to the allegation that government is complicit in all that is happening.
And we have seen a reputation of action, the reaction of government to incidences recently sir. Last week a very sad incident occurred when a bus loaded with Muslims was attacked in a particular village and 20 something or 23 or 25 people were killed, and within two hours the federal government of Nigeria responded. The presidency, the Nigerian inspector general of police, the DSS, the NIA, the Nigerian governors, everybody responded to that single incident.
In fact, just a week before that incident within the same community where this incident occurred, over 70 people, mainly Christians, were killed by this same Fulani group. They went to these villages, killed everybody they could find, went to the farmlands and destroyed all the farms that had crops that were ready for harvest. They went to the houses. Any storehouse of food was destroyed and we had thousands of people in an IDP camp in Jos.
Now, throughout the week that these people were killed there was no word of empathy from the Nigerian government. There was no response from the inspector general of police. The Nigerian army barracks in Rukuba is just a trekking distance from where these over 70 people were killed. Sir, there was no response from the Nigerian army even though the proximity of the Nigerian army barrack to the scene where these people were being killed and hacked down is not more than 15 minutes. You can trek it. Nothing, no response.
Now, when you compare that to the swift action that took place when Muslims were now attacked on Saturday, you will know, you will be left with no other interpretation. The simple interpretation is that the government is complicit in what is happening because the entirety of the occurrences could not have been the way they are without intervention from the government, and the government chooses when to react, government chooses when to send in security troops to stop a killing.
And the security architecture in Nigeria is such that the entire police is federal. There is no state police so unless and until the federal government or the president gives authorization, the inspector general of police cannot order his troops, his men, to move into any community even if there is an attack that he is aware of. The same thing with the army. The army is centralized just like the police. Everything comes from Abuja so even if a governor is willing to intervene, he will have to go and seek clearance and permission of the president of the country before troops move in even if an attack is happening behind their door, behind their window, which happened in Jos recently. They will not take action unless there is approval from Abuja.
And this is the situation we have seen repeatedly. You will see soldiers armed, ready with their guns and in vehicles, but they are still waiting for that command and approval that comes from Abuja, and [in] most instances that approval never comes when Christians are being attacked, but the moment a Muslim community or a Muslim is attacked anywhere, immediately the approval will come, and the troops will move in. We have seen this happening.
Robert R. Reilly:
Mark, may I ask you, you know more than several years ago the Nigerian federal troops did move against Boko Haram, particularly when there was an international outcry over the kidnapping of all those schoolgirls in the north. Now, why react against Boko Haram and not come to the assistance of the persecuted Christians in Kaduna and Plateau?
The situation in 2013 when the girls in Chibok were kidnapped, the Nigerian president at that time was Goodluck Jonathan, and the response certainly was professional. Today, we have an army that is tied to the apron strings of the president. The president from 2015 has been Muhammadu Buhari, who if you may want to recall was appointed by Boko Haram as their leader to lead in any negotiations with the Nigerian government before 2015. He was the one he was one of the persons named by Boko Haram to represent them in any negotiation with the Nigerian government, so when he now took over as president, we have seen a horrifying picture where Boko Haram dissidents are brought in the name of repentance.
They all claim that they have repented and they are now rehabilitated. So-called rehabilitation takes place in a Nigerian army facility in Gombe. And then they are reintegrated, and some of them are even recruited into the Nigerian army. Clear, confessed, arrested, fully-known members of Boko Haram have been forgiven their sins by this government, and have been reintegrated into society, and have indeed been employed in the Nigerian army today. So that is the situation that we are facing.
It is horrifying and scary that non-terrorists who have owned up to being terrorists come up and just say they have repented and you now declare them free. They are never tried, they do not go to prison, they do not serve any sentence. By word of mouth they are taken back into society. This is the clearest form of injustice we have ever seen in the world and it accounts for the lackadaisical approach of the Nigerian military to some of these attacks because once you have an ideological conviction to kill people in the name of religion, and then you are just brought back and given the uniform of the Nigerian army. How do we know that that radical position has been exposed from your brain? The same persons are now coming back to the Nigerian armed forces and this is ongoing.
Robert R. Reilly:
But Mark, if I may interrupt with a quick question, has the Nigerian military itself ever been implicated in these attacks on Christians?
Certainly, in most of these attacks the failure because it is just a refusal the Nigerian military has capacity to contain this terrorist activities because like what happened in Plateau State last week the barracks of the Nigerian army is just 15 minutes from the scene of the killing of the Christians. They sat down there hundreds of homes were destroyed, over 70 people were killed, there was no single shot or even a shout out from the Nigerian armed forces. The Nigerian army that is just there is no better proof in example in jamaa local government, particularly on the 24th of December 2016 a young girl who served me a drink two days earlier was killed. [She] was among the about 24 people that were killed in gospel village by this same killer machine and when this killing was going on on the 24th of December at a detachment of the Nigerian army, a combined attachment Nigerian army with the police we are not more than 15 kilometers away from that village the attack continued from midnight up to dawn they mentioned the demolish most of the time that detachment of the Nigerian military did not go to that village until everybody that could not run was killed and the house is destroyed we have seen this repeated over and over they will be bare sometimes they will be very close to the scene but they will tell you that they have not received approval to go into the issue and most of the time their commanders come out with an explanation that it is just a mere internal strife over land or it is a harder farmer crisis and I we have said this is a total falsehood what we used to know as young men while we were growing up in the 70s was that there used to be clashes of course with the hearts men when they are driving their cattle across the farms they tattle their animals sometimes they stray and enter the farmer’s farm and eat of his crops such incidences will be reported to the leadership of the both the Fulani and the indigenous community they will call each other sit down and resolve it never resulted in bloodshed what we have today sir it is a situation where armed men will come into a community kill those they can kill and then go back to the farms with cutlasses and cut down all the crops that have been planted and are growing they cut them down physically with long swots and make sure that nothing survives it is not a situation where somebody comes with cattle to graze and the cattle stretching to the farmer no there is a deliberate organized arrangement to destroy the farmlands of the indigenous people and this is done with impunity after you have killed the people the survivors are not left with anything to survive on their storehouses are destroyed some of the store houses are the crops there or the the farm produce are stolen they load some of these things on vehicles and drive them away so mark has has this in fact been successful in depopulating parts of the building absolutely absolutely and then most parts of and what is part of I am sorry the plateau state particularly there are so many villages in in in in some of those local governments that have been depopulated in fact a large segment of the people are now living in IDP camps and the philharmonia occupying the land so many local governments william is one of them if people come there physically you will see that the Fulani have occupied those villages and the villagers they are not go there again in Benue state we have so many local governments that have been visited with this wickedness the owners of the land are in IDP camps and the strangers have come and they are now living on those lands so there there is mark there is no chance of property rights enforcement enforcement in the courts of Nigeria you go to court how will you enforce it when the people are alone unto themselves and then the enforcement agency which is the police it is a federal agency that is controlled by somebody who is imperfected to those who are grabbing the land you get a court order you cannot enforce it and they live with impunity and tell you to go and do whatever you want to do they say it publicly all the forests all the places they occupy you dare not go there in the southern part of Nigeria when the governors of the south came together and banned open grazing the Fulani umbrella organization miyati allah came out openly and condemned the actions of the southern governors surprisingly the president of Nigeria also condemned the decision of the southern governors and lambasted all the governors for taking such a decision in other words there is an understanding between the people who are taking land by force and the government of Nigeria and they move together any place they want to settle and government some governors like the governor of cabinet has told everybody that the land every piece of land belongs to government and that anybody can go and settle anywhere now that is the greatest dissociation of the rights to property guaranteed by our constitution I am entitled to my inheritance but you wake up one day because you are a governor you announced the world that even the land that my father purchased or inherited from his grandfather that I do not own it that it belongs to government and that you can take it and give to anyone and the government of Nigeria surprised everybody in the world by engaging and announcing policies like the RUGA policy and the cattle roots policy the RUGA policy is something they wanted to do to carve out thousands of kilometers of land and give to the Fulani it is a federal government policy that they have been insisting on implementing honors of land traditional owners of land have resisted this policy but the federal government has said it must be implemented take land from indigenous owners and give it exclusively to the felonies to use well on what pretext does the government undertake such actions is there a law passed or it is simply an executive order coming from the presidency it is an executive order and they rely on the Nigerian languages act that said that government should act as custodian of the land so that there will be even distribution of land so that no one person comes to take the land in a whole village but instead of being a fear habitat government is going about it wrongly by coming to communities and chasing away traditional owners of Switzerland and giving such land exclusively to the full army for their business business in the center category are in all over the world it is a personal business you do not react to and then give it to all the people you react to you sell the the the cutting make money and build yourself a big house now that government will make it a policy to come into any state in Nigeria take the land from the or from the traditional owners and give it to stranger elements like the Fulani is such obnoxious policy that the world needs to know and the government of Nigeria is insisting that that policy must be implemented and since 2015 that has been the singular consistent policy that the government of Nigeria has been seeking to enforce in fact does the world know about what is taking place there I mean we we do know that in the past administration president trump talked to the president of Nigeria and raised the subject of Christian persecution with him and at the beginning of the show I mentioned the designation of Nigeria by the state department as as a state of concern and the U.S. commission on international freedom saying that there is a potential Christian genocide there but that that is not enough apparently are the Nigerian government was very upset and angry with that assessment and we know the kind of language that was deployed by officials of the government against the trump administration for taking that position and it is so unfortunate that although the world is now a global village the world still appears to be ignorant of the realities on ground in Nigeria this policy has been highlighted by government they have in fact displayed it on their international websites displayed it as their policy as their core policy in fact they boast about it and claim that it is their their fastest way to bring in peace within Nigeria between farmers and and under hadas but it is just a surreptitious effort to take land from owners of land and give it to a particular a specific class of people including non-indigenous that just coming from anywhere in Africa you take our land and give it to them and the attachment land to the Nigerian is everything it is his culture it is his religion it is his lifestyle once you take the land you have taken life away from him but the Nigerian government does not care and it takes away this land by force and it is ongoing that several states in cardona said for instance a cattle reserve that was just 40,000 square meters has been extended to 73,000 by just a proclamation of government and that area is exclusive for the police now the owners of those lands have been driven out if you go there to farm you are meat you either killed or men and the philanthropies tell you that government has given them the land you cannot raise your hereditary inheritance over the land it has been given to them and like I said these are actions of a so-called democratic government speaking of that it would this would seem to create a highly unstable situation within Nigeria absolutely, which is the largest estate the wealthy state would have repercussions in adjoining countries and Benin and Cameroon and so forth do are there indeed concerns that those governments raise because of this potential for major instability inside Nigeria as a result of these policies well nobody that has stepped into Nigeria in the last two years will fail to see will fail to to touch and feel the instability all over the place no single day passes without a report of 20 to 30 to 100 people being killed in Nigeria as a result of some of these actions of government it is either government is not willing or refusing government is refusing to address criminality and is pampering those executing people or government sits aloof and we see it continuously people the the people bearing arms are getting bolder every day they are getting bold every day with every passing day since none of them could be brought to book imagine an attack going on in a community not more than 15 minutes moved from the command of the Nigerian barracks and it goes on for a continuous week for a whole week people have been killed and displaced nobody takes a step to stop them you would think that um there would be broad spread revulsion from the other Christian communities within Nigeria for what is being done to the people in the north and the middle states you mentioned the actions of the governors of the southern states, which are mostly Christian cannot they do something for their their confrares in the middle states and the north they can do very little very very little because again there is this configuration that has to do with politics the governance in the south mostly are in the same political party with the president so out of political correctness they find it difficult to even raise their finger when their own communities are also coming under attack because these things that are happening in this middle belt have spread to the northeast I mean to the south east and to the southwest places like Ibadan have been visited villages in oyo state villages in and northbound state have been visited with violence but in most of those instances politics comes in to gap and prevent the governance from being a aggressive on the issue they like to play political correctness they speak in low tones mix it with diplomacy and then insist that there must be something they are coming together was actually the very first ball step we saw from that axis it was a very bold step and everybody applauded them but the president wielded his big stick on them and told everybody to fall in line and of course in today’s Nigeria where the entire architecture of security is centralized and in the hands of the president most of these politicians like to play safe what is the potential within Nigeria for a peaceful democratic change that might improve this situation the potentials are very slim because there is no arm of government that has not been infiltrated with or by the current political style we have where the president and his men have their hands in every in everything is it the electoral commission nobody trusts them to even conduct any sincere election the system is so muddled up the judiciary has been boxed in the security agencies are in the hands of the president the electoral commission that is described as independent is nothing at all to write home about because there are elections that have taken place that ought to have been cancelled but they were just they they approved the elections when there was very clear display of criminality ballot boxes were being taken away by soldiers people who have been chased away from electoral zones and elections declared without votes and what did we see recently the national assembly of Nigeria in the 21st century went ahead to refuse to approve electronic transmission of results in this era where small countries are an embracing electronic way of doing things Nigeria the so-called giant of Africa the national assembly of Nigeria said that election results should not be transmitted electronically that we are not yet ready for it that we do not have internet coverage that would allow results to be transmitted and that is why the hue and cry of Nigerians all over the national assembly still stood their ground because that is the policy and the direction of the current administration to make sure that they leave loopholes in the system that they can use in manipulating election results and what about the integrity of the court system that is the most painful aspect because the general belief around the world is that the court should be the hope for the common man in Nigeria the Nigerian government for the first time in our history organized the invasion of the homes of supreme court justices in the night on allegations that they were suspected of corruption before any investigation before any trial took place the Nigerian armed forces in gestapo style moved from house to house arrested the hallowed justices of the supreme court if even if these people were guilty of anything the entire system was dishonored the entire system was brought to shame by that display of one ton rocketedness there is nowhere you can go ahead now the the the chief justice of Nigeria the head of the supreme court was unceremoniously also removed and another one appointed so right from the onset the system the judicial system was weakened and rubbished its integrity was completely diminished and brought to not in the face of the public being rounded up like armed robbers in the heat in the in the night with this kind of erosion of the rule of law in Nigeria how do you as a barrister operate honestly I am not a proud lawyer I am not I am not proud to be lawyer a lawyer in Nigeria because the kind of things we see the kind of justice we expect very elementary limits that ought to be respected have been abused and you find judges just sitting down like lambdas they cannot hold themselves up to the integrity that the judiciary is known for or is expected of because they have been demystified and shown to the whole world to be rooks because it is only rocks that you ambush in the night and arrest in the presence of their children that is what was done to the judiciary and after that the courts just became the whipping chair they literally became the weeping child of the administration and that is why the attorney general of the federation currently can stroll into a court and get an order declaring the type of independent people’s movement of biafra designating them as a terrorist organization the attorney general of Nigeria strolled into a magistrate court and got another designating that organization as a terrorist organization meanwhile those who are killing all over the country kidnapping all over the country they are working free their organization is not at all designated as a terrorist organization I do not know whether the American government can review the approach by the Trump administration when it designated Nigeria as a country of interest in regards to religious freedoms the rights of Christians and other religions are being trampled upon with impunity so much so that the lives of Christians do not matter when Christians are killed in their hundreds nothing happens but if a Muslim or some Muslims are touched the whole world will come down and this is the manipulation of information that this government specializes in anytime we even make effort to speak like this on national or even local television we have classified as hectares of the government you remember the the famous head speech bill that the government wanted to pass through the national assembly it was actually targeted at anybody who is trying to speak in strong terms to the government to speak truth to government to interrogate the actions of government frankly mark you have spoken very frankly and courageously in this program does this put you in danger absolutely but I do not care because we have a common saying in Nigeria now if you speak you die if you do not speak you die so it is better to speak and die well my god you are a very brave man and I salute you. Bob Destro, would you like to give the perspective from your experience as an Assistant Secretary at the State Department, which dealt with some of these issues?
Sure. Well, thank you, Mark, for that that excellent rundown of of the situation I have a couple of maps that will help the viewers understand you know the geography a bit and I want to come back to something mark said early in his remarks and that is that the function of the government is to protect the physical security of its people I mean if you if you had to summarize in one sentence you know the the problem that that the the innocent people of the middle belt the north and and I might add increasingly in the southern parts of the country is that when you call the police nobody cops I mean basically there is no local police protection in Nigeria the police are a federal function that is a holdover from the from the British and so there is no local police so that when when mark says to you that the federal police do not do anything but then as soon as villagers try and defend themselves then they get arrested that is more than a clue that the federal government is is is if not supportive of this is certainly taking a deliberate hands off and so what we want to to think about this was the you know in my capacity as assistant secretary for democracy human rights and labor you know the Secretary Pompeo asked me if I would try and make some sense out of what was going on in Nigeria and so what we did is we looked we spoke extensively with our own intelligence community we spoke with people on the ground we visited Abuja last October spoke to a number of government officials and I think you know once again to underscore what mark has been reporting is there seems to be almost a calculated denial that physical security is is the most basic of all human rights I mean if you cannot walk down the street at night you know without fear of being kidnapped or mugged I mean when you look at at polls coming in from Nigeria one of the greatest fears that people have is being kidnapped for ransom you know so that means that what we have is a complete and breakdown of the police and and when you when you look at the the ethnic and linguistic and religious breakdown of Nigeria which you find is that historically the north has been Muslim the middle is a mixed is a mixed group very the north and the middle are Nigeria’s breadbasket and the south is where a lot of the oil and a lot of the commercial activity takes place and and what we find is that in these most recent attacks we are seeing the invaders you know destroying crops they are not only destroying you know houses and killing people they are they are destroying crops too and and the only reason for that kind of behavior is is to push people off the land and so in many respects what we are seeing here is a government acquiescence in a major land grab by ethno-religious groups from the north and and from other other areas around Nigeria and so the so that is kind of you know to that was my perspective certainly in the state department now getting the state department to break out of this this received narrative of climate change was literally like pulling teeth I sat through a I sat through a lengthy briefing before we left for Nigeria in in october and after the briefing was over I made the comment I could have learned everything that I heard in this briefing from wikipedia there is so where is this intelligence you are supposed to be telling us about it was not until we got to the embassy in Nigeria in Abuja where the regional security officers basically told us what was going on in the north and in the middle in in terms you know it was a classified briefing but nonetheless what they were talking about is basically what mark is talking about now and and so the the the received narrative here in washington is that is that we have to we have to stick with the climate change narrative that this is a fight between farmers and herders the Fulani herdsmen you know do grazed their cat historically they have been a nomadic group of people grazing their cattle but you know today if you need to graze your cattle you can you know rent grazing rights I mean there is this is not a this is not a climate change issue and and because the state department is so completely wrapped up in in both preserving the status quo and its relationship with the buhari government it is it seems either unwilling or unable to come to grips with not only what is happening in the north and middle belt but also to connect the dots with what is happening with Boko Haram and and the the growth of Islamic fundamentalism across the sahel well what about the effect of placing Nigeria on this list of countries of particular concern did that have an impact internationally and did it have an impact inside Nigeria well, the government was not happy about it. You could see that in the cold shoulder that we got what we got there and the you know right putting someone putting a country on as a country of particular concern means that we should be looking very carefully at our aid programs and our programs in country to to direct attention to programs that that are supposed to be useful once again the the response was you know there was a lot of resistance to that both here in washington and certainly in Abuja and and you know the the big issue I think in in the issue that will eventually get everybody’s attention is to pay very close attention to the kinds of money that we are putting into Nigeria every year and what it is being used for Mark, what was the response inside Nigeria to the announcement of placing the country on the State Department’s list? Were you pleased by that or or was that helpful in calling attention to the problems you have outlined?
Absolutely, we were relieved that for the first time the world of the United States was rejecting the blood and poor school that is being pushed across the world by hired image lenders on behalf of government to hide the truth from the world while a religious systemic killing is ongoing the government because of its approach and its policy of Islamization does not want that to be let out so that America got to the point of removing the wood and seeing clearly what was going on was a gladdening situation but I can tell you that the government was very angry and very unhappy with that position and they did not fear for waste time in telling the world that the government of America was going to do that what about the political situation inside Nigeria which after all has a huge Christian population in the south and I think as Bob Destro mentioned earlier it is roughly 50-50 Christian and Muslim are why are there any what is the Christian community in the south doing to help their religious conference in the middle states the Christian community in the south of Nigeria has a very huge challenge the challenge has to do with the fact that they have a mixed followership yes many of them are Christians but the truth remains that they have Muslims within the family so it makes it difficult for them to respond holistically sometimes because the religious bug in Nigeria is very strong people are blindfolded once religion is propped up when the issue of religion is lifted up people refuse to be reasonable again they become blindfolded and try to play a middle class when religion is brought up so you find a situation where very strong Christian leaders even in the south will hesitate before speaking out sometimes they now speak when their denomination is attacked in the middle belt or is it not that is when some of them are prompted out of necessity to nurse itself so we have very complex situation particularly in your balance that complexity is there you know can both of you address the photographs that we were sent of a recent incident in Borno state in the destruction of a church there and could either describe what happened and what we are seeing in those photographs?
I wanted to I wanted to pick up on what Mark had said about people being blindfolded and and the the difficulty in these inter-religious disputes, especially with the Muslim community is that that people would prefer not to look. It is a very, very difficult issue to grapple with. I saw it in the State Department when we said look, we need to look at the issue of physical security. That was translated into all Destro wants to do is help the Christians, you know, so this being willing to to ignore or not to raise you know not to rock the boat in calling these atrocities what they are is really very difficult. It affects the State Department. You know we saw the exactly the same kind of a response when with the beginning of ISIS in 2015 2013 1415 and people are simply not willing to to step up and and face the consequences of taking the blinders off and so you know Mark’s point is extremely important from a political perspective because the country is a lot more mixed than people make it out to be and as some of our colleagues in Abuja told me when I was there, basically the country is at war with itself. People from the north who are Christian are assumed in the south to be Muslim, people from the the south who were Muslim are assumed to be Christian, and the religious and ethnic components of this are simply not understood because nobody talks about them, but it begins with the point that mark made at the very beginning, which is if the government doesn’t protect each one of us equally as a citizen and protect our physical security, then society is going to devolve into violence like we are seeing in Nigeria and this is you know we assume that we have local police protection here and as we are seeing in certain parts of the country you do not and that is the beginning of the politization of a justice system which in the end cannot really be tolerated.
Now, let me let me talk briefly about the the pictures we are seeing from Borno. The Borno government has encouraged the destruction of churches and so some of the pictures you are seeing from Borno of destroyed churches with people who are going to going to having worship services at the churches anyway Borno is is really the eye of the storm with with Boko Haram as of as of this time last year many of the international aid agencies simply cannot do business there anymore and most of them are either moving or have moved out. The governor himself has been kidnapped. I had the honor of having dinner with him and with two other governors when I was in Abuja in October. He is afraid to go out on the road himself and so when you look at the question, what is it that the United States can be doing? We spend a lot of money in Nigeria. We provide a lot of weapons for the military. That has become a big boat of contention you know, but my preference would be to get everybody on the same page, talking about the physical security of the population.
Robert R. Reilly:
Bob, when you say the government of Borno State is encouraging the destruction of churches, by doing what or by not doing [what]?
Well, I am going to let Mark answer that question because he is the one who is closer on the ground, all right okay sir if I had known I would have brought data of the number of churches destroyed in the last one year not just in Borno but in the northern part of Nigeria. It is a government policy. It is an agency of government that went to put down the church in my degree foreign last Saturday. It is an agency of government and there is no way that agency of government would go and do what it did without the constant or approval of the governor it’s not it’s not possible so we are seeing situations where certificates of occupancies of churches are cancelled in some states if you want to build a church you have to go and apply in fact the regulation is that if you want land in some states particularly yobe er Borno kano sokoto you cannot say you want a certificate of occupancy to build a church the policy is that there is no land for churches and they are drinking places it is clearly stated they will not give you land to build a church or to build a big apollo so people now apply for land the Christians they have to get land in the name of building houses and if you go and start a church god help you if there is a report that you are using your house as a church you put it down this has been going on for years and what happened is not new to us we saw it the only sad thing is that Borno State is in the eye of the storm anybody nobody among us I mean expected that the governor of Borno State who has attempted to win public sympathy will go and thread that line because even previous administrations never took that line it was not government that was destroying churches it was Boko Haram so if we have gotten to the stage where the government of the state will approve the demolition of a church then we have taken it to another level and that is what is very scary very very scary that it is no longer the attackers or the terrorists that will come and destroy your church or kill you it is the government and that is what is the reality today if this is what happens bob when when you close your eyes or as mark put it put the blind holders on to the religious and ethnic dimensions of this struggle I mean that the from Boko Haram’s perspective Borno State is Dar al Islam is basically it’s the land of Islam and and churches have no place in in that in that land and we see that certainly in in other places as well and so you know to to ignore you know that dimension you know means that you are ignoring a big piece it’s not just physical security there is also an attempt to push people out and we haven’t even begun to talk about the number of internally displaced people in in places like Borno State and other places in in in Nigeria the the country is coming apart and and the you know you have huge refugee camps we spend a lot of money supporting refugees in in Nigeria you know but eventually they are going to get on the move just like the Syrians did and but the numbers in in West Africa are so much greater than than in the middle east then you know you are looking at a disaster kind of on multiple levels where where are they going to go well the um certainly they are going to many of them will try and go to Europe you know they will try and come here the you know but but how how long if you were a a parent with kids and a wife you know at what point does does living in a refugee camp become intolerable I mean there’s only so much money that Europe and the United States can put into this and I can tell you from a governmental perspective that you know the conversations we had with the EU with the UK with France you know with Germany with with The Netherlands everybody understands what the situation is there you know but but they were looking to the United States for leadership on the question of of physical security and and and on this issue of particular concern because you have to ask the question why are you particularly concerned the answer is you got to stop the violence you know you’ve got to protect people’s individual physical security you know whether it’s from kidnappers or or from marauding Fulani militants on motorcycles when you say the blinders are put on in respect to the religious and ethnic dimensions are the religious and ethnic dimensions the same in other words do you find a coincidence between religious affiliation and tribal membership or is there a mix within tribes between Muslim and Christian Mark do you want to handle that one yeah we will try the mix as far as we know practically on ground here in my tribe foreign we can count the number of Muslims there may not be more than 10 in the whole tribe for a large population over 3000 so yes we acknowledge that there are Muslims and we respect them and we expect them to be allowed to practice their religion of choice in the same way one will grow up not there are households and Poland Christians they are in the minority very spleen minority incarnate in Katsina State in cardinal state in kepler state they are Muslim and their household popularly but those ones they are the they are worst hits because they can be doctor they can be engineers but they will never get job all because of the religion that is subscribed and so the complexity the position of religion in Nigeria has been eradic above competence above qualifications particularly in this current regime that your religion is considered first before your publication before your credentials to serve and it has been so positioned that it is a situation of helplessness and when we see our government go to America go to Europe and speak flamboyantly on public platform calling for equality calling for for equitable treatment of human beings we are embarrassed because it is like do do do not do do not do what we we say do what you do when you are treating us as government treat us equally we do not understand how in fact foreign countries keep funding this government because the government has breached every norm of democratic and modern existence and it is against Nigeria’s constitution is it now it is against Nigeria’s constitution they have blatantly abused this concession people have gone to court the judiciary has been intimidated to the extent that in fact it’s also taken over it has been taken over by the executive and that is why they can boldly tell you when you are complaining they will tell you to go to court because they have completely in that arm of the government in our closing moments here then this is of course a very distressing um report from both of you and to bob you mentioned the further devolution into violence is that what the future holds or what renegotiation of Nigeria’s future we must sit down and discuss the terms under which this nation will continue to exist as a nation we can’t go on like this because assuming at the end of the attending of this government another regime counting and continues with these policies this country will break and assuming at the end of this tenure another government comes and then begins to do the opposite there have been a problem and so we do not have a choice and government must accept to the voices of well-meaning ideas who have been calling for the renegotiation of Nigeria’s future we must discuss this we must across the table instead of using the force of arm to muzzle any voice that wants a discussion because that is what has been happening all the voices that have said look we are tired of this thing we need the change we need a discussion some of them have been arrested they are on trial for treason and and the director what would be what would be the forum for such a conversation or negotiation there are there are ethnic nationalities should be represented in the discussion ethnic nationalities not the the web political divisions because there is a large outplay that the current political structure of Nigeria was done and and and manipulated in such a way that cannot stay that is the same size with Lagos unless brings 44 members it has 44 local government while Lagos has 20. robot will tell you the size of Lagos and the population in Lagos cannot be matched by any other state but when it comes to the national assembly the people that come to the national assembly from Canada state alone is almost twice the number that comes from lego state so this skewed arrangement does not go around the situation where you see let the discussion take place at the national assembly because the numbers are not and the people who are enjoying this skilled arrangement would never allow it that the discussion would be fair so let us think outside the box get ethnic nationalities to be represented at this discussion then Nigeria can move forward bob do you want to react to that yes I mean I think the that’s why again what mark had said earlier about wearing blindfolds you know the international community needs to take a hard look at the programs that it is supporting in Nigeria and I am not just talking about the United States, I am also talking about France, the UK, the European Union I mean they are you know many of them have their blinders on and and and so what we are doing is we are supporting the Buhari government we are doing so in a way that does not ask them any hard questions and and they re when you do ask them hard questions they get very angry and and when you ask questions about discrimination in the job market in politics in in representation those are all there for anybody who studies political science or in any country would know that there’s a problem when the central government is is organizing things to favor certain groups over others and and you know we do not know much about ethnicity our state department does not pay much attention to ethnicity it is completely fixated like many of our government agencies are on race you know but not on ethnicity and certainly they do not want to talk about religion and and so the so what we miss is the analogies that you would have to draw between what’s happening among the different ethnic groups and and linguistic groups in Africa with the bloody wars that were fought over religion and ethnicity in Europe I mean we are missing that and and and and that’s a big problem because it is not I would say to you it’s not that we miss the Arab Spring we did not miss the Iranian Revolution of the State Department we saw exactly what was going on we had no idea about what to do what to do with it.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, I am afraid that is all the time we have today. I would like to thank Bob Destro from the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America and Mark Jacob from Nigeria in this discussion Christian persecution in Nigeria. I invite you to go to the Westminster Institute website to see our other offerings and lectures, covering recent subjects on cyber crime to China, Russia and other things. Thank you for joining us I am Bob Reilly, your host.