A recent and ostensibly insignificant “label change” by the U.S. Department of State sheds light on both President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama, as well as on a potential presidential candidate for 2024, Hillary Clinton.
On November 17, 2021, the State Department removed Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, that is, nations which engage in, or tolerate violations of, religious freedom. It did this despite several human rights organizations characterizing the persecution meted out to Nigeria’s Christians as a “genocide.”
According to an August 2021 report, since the Islamic insurgency began in earnest in July 2009 — first at the hands of Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist organization, and later by the Fulani, Muslim herdsmen also motivated by jihadist ideology — more than 60,000 Christians have either been murdered or abducted during raids. The kidnapped Christians have never returned to their homes, and their loved ones believe them to be dead. During the same time, approximately 20,000 churches and Christian schools have been torched and destroyed. Nigeria was also the nation with the most Christians murdered (3,530) for their faith in 2020. According to another tally, at least 17 Christians were murdered every day in the first half of 2021 alone. As for those Christians who survive the jihadist raids, millions of them are currently internally displaced people.
Irrespective of these abysmal statistics, the U.S. State Department does not believe that Nigeria should be categorized as a Country of Particular Concern; and that nations such as Russia, which was included on the list, is a worse violator of religious freedom than Nigeria. In removing Nigeria from the list, the Biden administration has demonstrated a sheepish continuity with a previous administration. Despite jihadists having slaughtered and terrorized Nigeria’s Christians all during President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure (2009-2017), and despite the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom having repeatedly urged that Nigeria be designated as a Country of Particular Concern, the Obama administration obstinately refused to acquiesce. It was only in 2020, under the Trump administration, that Nigeria was placed on that list — only to be removed again just recently.
To his credit, President Donald Trump had also forthrightly asked the current Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari (whom many Nigerian officials insist Obama helped bring to power), “Why are you killing Christians?”
Needless to say, many observers have slammed the State Department for its recent decision again to let Nigeria literally get away with mass murder.
As Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International, noted:
Outcry over the State Department’s removal of Country of Particular Concern status for Nigeria’s religious freedom violations is entirely warranted. No explanations have been given that could justify this decision. If anything, the situation in Nigeria has grown worse over the last year. Thousands of Christians, as well as Muslims who oppose the goals of terrorist and militia groups, are targeted, killed, and kidnapped, and the government is simply unwilling to stop these atrocities. Blasphemy cases are regularly brought against religious minorities, including humanists, in the North. Removing Country of Particular Concern status for Nigeria will only embolden the increasingly authoritarian government there. We call on the U.S. government to rectify this inexplicable decision, and instead continue America’s long tradition of standing up for those who are persecuted worldwide.
Similarly, the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Nadine Maenza, said:
USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year…. We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.
John Eibner, president of Christian Solidarity International, frankly said:
The State Department’s decision to de-list a country where thousands of Christians are killed every year reveals Washington’s true priorities…. Removing this largely symbolic sign of concern is a brazen denial of reality and indicates that the U.S. intends to pursue its interests in western Africa through an alliance with Nigeria’s security elite, at the expense of Christians and other victims of widespread sectarian violence…. If the U.S. CPC list means anything at all—an open question at this point—Nigeria belongs on it.
Worse, not only did the Obama State Department for eight years refuse to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern; during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State (2009-2013), she, too, refused to designate Boko Haram in Nigeria as a “terrorist” organization — despite Boko Haram (which roughly translates to “Westernization is forbidden”) being a jihadist group whose adherents have slaughtered more Christians and bombed more churches than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria combined. Clinton’s refusal persisted despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and more than a dozen senators and congressmen for her to designate Boko Haram. Instead, Clinton took the position that “inequality” and “poverty” are “what’s fueling all this stuff” — a reference to ideologically charged Muslims of Boko Haram terrorizing and murdering Christian “infidels” — to use the words of her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, from 2012.
Her callousness — as with her response to the murders of Americans at Benghazi, Libya: “What difference at this point does it make?” — was particularly visible in 2014, when Boko Haram, a group she had long shielded, abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria. It was an incident that made headlines and therefore required a response.
Publicly, Clinton bemoaned the lot of the kidnapped girls: “The seizure of these young women by this radical extremist group, Boko Haram, is abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible.” Meanwhile, as a 2014 report pointed out,
The State Department under Hillary Clinton fought hard against placing the al Qaeda-linked militant group Boko Haram on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations for two years. And now, lawmakers and former U.S. officials are saying that the decision may have hampered the American government’s ability to confront the Nigerian group that shocked the world by abducting hundreds of innocent girls.
Indeed, two years earlier, in 2012, when Clinton was actively shielding Boko Haram from the terrorist label, a spokesman for the group announced that they were planning on doing something just like they did at Chibok — to “strike fear into the Christians of the power of Islam by kidnapping their women” — though that too had fallen on Clinton’s deaf ears. Notably, although news media initially presented the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls as Muslim, it later came out that they were Christian, at which point the media quickly lost interest.
Being placed on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations is important: it helps to ostracize and stigmatize malign groups and makes it illegal for any U.S. entities to do business with them. Most importantly, it allows U.S. intelligence and law enforcement to use certain tools and take certain measures that otherwise might not be legal, such as those offered by the Patriot Act: more surveillance, more efficient interagency communication, and so on.
Discussing Clinton’s failure to apply the terrorist designation onto Boko Haram — while simultaneously condemning them for engaging in “an act of terrorism” in regards to Chibok, 2014 — a former senior U.S. official said soon after:
The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy… The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.
Apparently such is the official, unwavering, and consistent response, whether under Obama/Clinton or now under Biden: Nigeria is not a “country of particular concern” — even as a genocide continues to unfold against its Christians.