WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hundreds of people have been killed in Boko Haram terrorist attacks throughout northern Nigeria and in sectarian violence in the Middle Belt during the past two months. The meeting in Washington D.C. between President Barack Obama and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari offers both nations the opportunity to reinvigorate their commitment to, and develop initiatives that would, help curb both types of violence.
“We are extremely concerned by Boko Haram’s senseless killing of innocent people, the targeting of worshippers, and the destruction of houses of worship,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. (pictured) “This increase in violence has left more than 300 dead since the beginning of July and is a stark reminder that Boko Haram is a destabilizing force in Nigeria and the region. Presidents Buhari and Obama will be discussing ways to tackle Nigeria’s multiple security, corruption, and development challenges.”
“USCIRF welcomes the Administration’s calls for the Nigerian government to comprehensively address these challenges. We urge that these discussions focus on improving civilian security from Boko Haram’s attacks and the long-standing herder-farmer sectarian violence. Such discussion should urge the Nigerian government to respect human rights during military and police responses and ensure justice for victims. Addressing the issues of radicalization, northern socio-economic disparities, land conflicts, displacement, and reconciliation also are crucial to helping ensure security and ending the violence,” said George.
USCIRF has documented an increase in Boko Haram attacks since the start of Ramadan. Of particular concerns are the attacks on houses of worship, including: three mosques attacked in early July that killed more than 150 people in Borno and Plateau states Eid al-Fitr celebrations bombed on July 16 in Damaturu and Gombe that killed at least 60; 32 churches burned on July 5 in Borno; the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Potiskum bombed, also on July 5, with 5 people killed, including the priest; and the ECWA church in Jos attempted bombing on July 12. In addition to the Boko Haram attacks, hundreds more have been killed since Buhari’s election this past April in violence by predominately Muslim herders against predominately Christian farmers throughout the Middle Belt.
USCIRF has recommended since 2009 that Nigeria be designated a “country of particular concern” for systemic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. A USCIRF delegation’s visit to Abuja and Kaduna from May 9 to May 16 reinforced these concerns which include Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks against Christians and Muslims, recurring sectarian violence, and escalating interfaith tensions. While the Nigerian federal government does not engage in religious persecution, it fails to implement effective strategies to prevent or stop terrorism or sectarian violence and does not bring to justice those responsible for such violence. The Nigerian government’s almost exclusively military approach to Boko Haram contributes to ongoing terrorism in the country. Boko Haram exploits sectarian fissures to manipulate religious tensions and destabilize Nigeria.