By Olalekan Adetayo, John Ameh, Friday Olokor and Success Nwogu
ABUJA – The United States has advised the Federal Government of Nigeria to do more in protecting Nigerians and humanitarian organisations that are assisting the country in the face of activities of Boko Haram insurgents and other religious and ethnic violence.
The US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, made the call in Washington DC on Tuesday during a joint media briefing he had with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, after the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission meeting.
Pompeo made the call amidst increasing attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on aid workers and residents of the North-East as well as the rising killings by bandits in other parts of the country, particularly, Niger, Zamfara and Katsina states.
Also on insecurity, the Presidency and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs on Wednesday hit back at the Christian Association of Nigeria over its attack on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who on Tuesday said insurgents had killed more Muslims than Christians.
But CAN on Wednesday insisted that the NSCIA could not exonerate Boko Haram as an Islamic organisation.
Buhari, had in an op-ed published in a United States-based magazine, Christianity Today, said Christians were not the primary targets of the insurgents.
CAN’s Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Kwamkur Samuel, in his response, told The PUNCH on Tuesday that Buhari’s statement was provocative.
He said Boko Haram had wiped out all Christian communities in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, among others.
The rising insecurity in Nigeria featured at the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission meeting in Washington DC.
The Department of State, which hosted the meeting, made the full transcript of the media briefing available to journalists.
Pompeo said although the US government was aware that the issues involved in the security challenges were hard and complicated, there was the need for the government to protect its civilians.
To achieve this, he said the US would provide $40m in humanitarian assistance to Nigeria in addition to the nearly $350m that was provided in 2019.
He said, “The foreign minister and I also discussed the massive humanitarian crisis caused by Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa and other religious and ethnic violence.”
Protect religious communities, America advises FG
Pompeo stated, “We know that these issues are hard. We know that they’re complicated. But I strongly encourage the Nigerian government to do more to protect its civilians, including religious communities and the humanitarian organisations, seeking to assist them.
While noting that security cooperation between the two countries had been expanding, Pompeo cited Nigeria’s recent $500m purchase of 12 US-made A-29 aircraft.
This, he said, supported the recently stated goal of Buhari of creating “a security force with the best training and modern weaponry.
“The United States has already invested in the training of Nigeria’s military on human rights and the Law of Armed Conflict.
“Nigeria was one of the first African nations to join the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. America is now supporting the Nigerian fight against ISIS’s largest global affiliate, ISIS-West Africa – a dangerous threat to both of our countries.
“In part due to this terrorism threat, on Friday, President Trump announced the suspension of immigrant visas for Nigerians because Nigeria has room to grow in sharing important national security information.
“I am optimistic that’s going to happen. In the proclamation, President Trump highlighted Nigeria’s importance as a strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism and recognised the government’s commitment to improving information sharing with us.”
On economic cooperation, he noted that Nigeria was already America’s second-largest trading partner in Africa.
He stated, “The US companies from Google to Chevron to KPMG invested over a billion dollars in Nigeria in 2018 alone, creating over 18,000 jobs and indirectly supporting three million others.”
He said he was pleased that Buhari had prioritised that fight against corruption. He stated, “In support of that fight, I am announcing today that the United States and Nigeria have signed an agreement to return to the Nigerian people more than $308m in assets stolen by a former dictator,” he added.
Onyeama, on his part, said security in Nigeria had become a major issue and an existential threat.
He said while the nation hoped to procure the fighter planes Pompeo mentioned, there were other areas like sharing of intelligence.
On Wednesday, the President’s op-ed in Christianity Today generated more reactions. The apex organisation for Muslims in the country, the NSCIA, called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on insecurity.
The group, which condemned CAN, supported the President’s statement that insurgents had killed more Muslims than Christians.
The NSCIA stated this at a press conference addressed by its Director of Administration, Alhaji Yusuf Nwoha. The press conference was attended by its Deputy Secretary General, Prof. Salisu Shehu and Head (Media and Communications), Aselemi Ibrahim.
Nwoha said rather than playing to the gallery as ethnic irredentists and religious bigots would do, Nigerians should support government to eliminate insecurity.
NSCIA seeks state of emergency
Nwoha said, “The level of insecurity in the country has reached an unacceptable crescendo that declaring a state of emergency on it appears not only necessary but also pressing.
“Therefore, the NSCIA stridently calls on the Federal Government and all its agencies (including the military) to use whatever means possible to arrest this descent into anarchy. Nigeria cannot just continue like this with the blood of the innocent being shed unjustly and human security being at its lowest ebb.
“The situation of Nigeria today is desperate and desperate situations require desperate measures in the collective interest of well-meaning Nigerians. Let the monster of insecurity be tackled actively and proactively with the full weight of Nigeria’s security and defence capacity.”
The group said those who were assigned the role of guaranteeing external security should not wait until there would be no nation to secure.
It stated, “The time to arrest the insecurity in the land is now and we repeat our call to President Muhammad Buhari to combat the current spike in insecurity with candid decisiveness.
The NSCIA lamented that Nigerians were dying needlessly to “the satisfaction of the evil-minded political profiteers, ethnic irredentists and pseudo-religious agitators disguising as religious leaders.”
It also gave the names of Christians who had been arrested for terrorism. The NSCIA added, “Christians have been known to engage in terrorism in Nigeria with a view to blaming it on Muslims.”
The NSCIA said the aborted bombing of the Living Faith Church in Kaduna, would have been blamed on Muslims if the suspect was not arrested.
It also made a tactical reference to the nationwide protest against killings organised by CAN and attended in Lagos by the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
According to the group, rather than see insecurity as a national challenge some religious leaders have resorted to scoring cheap political goals and engage in self-indicting propaganda.
The NSCIA said, “One of them is the recently organised street show by some religious leaders who give political colouration to grinding insecurity fuelled by hypocrisy and hubris. But efforts must be doubled through the instrumentality of hard work and prayers so that the enemies of Nigeria will be unveiled and this is where government must double or triple its efforts at counter-insecurity measures.”
Criticising CAN, the NSCIA stated that Boko Haram did not represent Islam or Muslims. It stated, “The group and the enemies of Islam hiding behind its mask are pursuing a rogue, venal and doggy agenda far removed from Islam.
It’s height of falsehood to say B’Haram is ploy to eliminate Christians – NSCIA
“It is, therefore, the height of insincerity, wickedness, falsehood and hypocrisy to suggest that Boko Haram is a ploy to eliminate Christians, a dummy being promoted by some dealers camouflaging as religious leaders to their followers and the outside world.”
It noted that more Muslims, including Imams, had been slaughtered, displaced and dismembered than Christians by Boko Haram.
The group added, “To suggest that Christians are killed because they refuse to embrace Islam stands logic on its head. Were Muslim scholars and individuals killed in mosques, market squares and villages killed because they refused to denounce Islam?
“In September 2018, a prominent Muslim General was murdered in cold blood and his body was dragged to an abandoned mining pit filled with water in Dura-Du District of Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State.”
The NSCIA said it did not generalise the killings by accusing Christians in Nigeria of murdering Muslims.
The organisation said some terrorist acts attributed to Boko Haram were not more than false flag operations by the irredentist political and self-righteous anti-Islamic religious associations in Nigeria.
You can’t exonerate Boko Haram as Islamic organisation, CAN replies NSCIA
In his response to NSCIA’s statement, CAN’s Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Samuel, said it was unfortunate that the Muslim group digressed from the reality to presenting names of Christians who were engaged in terrorism.
He said besides providing the names, the NSCIA ought to have named Christian organisations sponsoring them, their leaders, their headquarters, where they were being rehabilitated and their international partners.
Samuel stated, “Unless and until the organisation provides details of these questions, they are very far from making sense to Nigerians. For the Boko Haram and killers Fulani militias, the names of their organisations are known, their leaders are always on one medium or video justifying their actions. They have headquarters with international partners and have always claimed responsibility for their actions.
“The Christian Association of Nigeria has much respect for the leadership of the NSCIA but regretted that they are being misled into taking issue with CAN. That attempt to exonerate Boko Haram as an Islamic organisation has failed! ”
He said CAN was not surprised that Boko Haram used Christian agents “because facts abound that most of the kidnapped Christians are forced to change their faith and work for the insurgents.”
The CAN official said the insurgents told Nigerians that they had converted and married Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped from Chibok, to one of their commanders.
He added that a committed Christian National Youth Service Corps member was reported to have told his Church not to bother paying for his ransom because he preferred to work for the insurgents.
He said, “It is true that one of the killers of Rev. Lawan Andimi (Adamawa State CAN chairman) was a Christian who was forcefully converted to work for the terrorists. Is it not also true that Boko Haram with terrorism is gaining more favour in Nigeria and is likely to have more youth followers regardless of their religion?
“Is it not a likely outcome that with the rehabilitation packages and possible absorption of the so-called repentant terrorists into Nigerian Army, a high number of jobless youth will join the group for the sake of survival?
“I think at this point displaying names of Christians who have participated in terrorism will not help justify the case of the NSCIA because Nigerians already know that they are being killed by Boko Haram, Fulani militiamen, ISWAP, bandits, kidnappers and their likes. Nigerians know also their religion and the angle they come from. We cannot deny the fact that not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.”
Presidency dismisses CAN’s claim on Chibok/Dapchi schoolgirls
On its part, the Presidency disputed CAN’s allegations that the Federal Government refused to pay ransom to secure the release of the Chibok schoolgirls because the majority of them were Christians.
Recall that 276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014 by Boko Haram, but 57 of the girls escaped to safety almost immediately.
The insurgents eventually went away with 219 of them. Over a number of years, 107 of the Chibok girls regained freedom, but till date, 112 are missing.
CAN had alleged on Tuesday that the Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped in Yobe State almost four years later in 2018, were speedily released because the government paid random, having realised that most of them were Muslims, except Leah Sharibu, whom the insurgents held back on account of her Christian faith.
But, in its reaction, the Presidency dismissed CAN’s claim on payment of ransom to Boko Haram, saying that the regime of Buhari did not pay any ransom for the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls.
“We are again constrained to react to unfounded allegations by the Christian Association of Nigeria about the payment or non-payment of ransom for the release of the Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls”, it said in a statement by Buhari’s media aide, Mr Femi Adesina.
It recalled that in 2018, the Buhari regime, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had clarified that no ransom was paid on the girls.
It added, “We urge CAN to desist from disinformation which can further divide Nigerians. The letter and spirit of the Holy Bible do not support discord, which CAN’s allegations are liable to cause.
However, the Presidency said Buhari was committed to having the Chibok schoolgirls released and would pay ransom if his regime needed to do so.
“President Muhammadu Buhari made it very clear in 2015 that if ransom needed to be paid to free the Chibok schoolgirls, he would pay.
Don’t rationalise killings, Atiku tells Buhari
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in his twitter personal handle, @atiku, said killing by any misguided group was wrong and should be condemned.
He tweeted: “We must not rationalise killings. Whether Christian, Muslim, traditionalist, or atheist, the killing of any human being, by Boko Haram, or any other misguided group, is wrong and should be condemned unequivocally. There is no compulsion in religion. Only love. –AA”