After having been swept under the rug for over a year, one of the Biden administration’s “sins of omission” is making headlines again.
Over a year ago, on November 17, 2021, the State Department inexplicably removed Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). These are nations that engage in, or tolerate violations of, religious freedom. The Biden State Department did this despite strong recommendations from several human rights organizations, many of which insist that Christians are undergoing a genocide in Nigeria.
At the time, many observers slammed the State Department for its decision to let Nigeria get away with mass murder, literally. Christian Solidarity International spoke for many when it 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.
Even for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal commission that monitors and reports on religious freedom to the U.S. government and Congress, the Biden administration’s decision to delist Nigeria was ‘‘inexplicable,’’ a reflection of ‘‘turning a blind eye’’ to that nation’s ‘‘particularly severe religious freedom violations.’’
The reason many were shocked is obvious. Christians are being butchered—purged—at an alarming rate in Nigeria.
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—43,000 Christians were murdered, and 18,500 were abducted (never to be seen again and assumed to be dead). During the same timeframe, approximately 17,500 churches and 2,000 Christian schools were torched and destroyed.
Since the publication of that August 2021 report, things have only gotten worse. In 2022 alone, 90% of all Christians around the world who were killed for their faith—5,014 Christians to be exact—were slaughtered in Nigeria. On average, that is 14 Christians killed every day for their faith—at least one Christian every two hours—in Nigeria.
Little has changed with the new year. In just the first month of 2023, in January alone, Muslims slaughtered approximately 60 Christians in Nigeria, raided churches, and kidnapped women and children (based on a computation of several reports from January, 2023: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).
During one of these raids on a church, on Sunday, Jan. 15, Muslims terrorists burned Fr. Isaac Achi, a Catholic priest, alive. They also shot and wounded his assistant priest. Discussing another massacre of Christians, on Jan. 19, a clergyman said,
The images of the attack are horrifying, and I keep saying that not even ISIS is capable of such brutality. After killing, these guys decapitated some and took the parts away as proof to whoever is the sponsor.
Such sadism is par for the course. In another recent attack on a Christian village, the jihadists cut off the breast of a Christian woman.
Recently, however, in response to this unabated assault, on Jan. 31, 2023, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for, not only the return of Nigeria to the State Department’s CPC list, but for the appointment of a special ambassador to monitor the situation.
Although the eight-page resolution is worth reading in its entirety, some of its more salient features include properly explaining the purely Islamic motives of those terrorizing Christians in Nigeria.
For example, although the Fulani—the one Muslim demographic most responsible for the butchery of Christians—are regularly portrayed in the West as impoverished and un-ideologically motivated herdsmen merely competing for scarce resources, the resolution correctly notes that the Fulani are working to reestablish a “caliphate,” adding:
[The Fulani] demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches, and, during attacks, shouted ‘’Allah u Akbar,’ ‘destroy the infidels,’ and ‘wipe out the infidels.’… [Despite this] the Department of State mischaracterizes or incompletely characterizes the increasing incidents of large scale violence in Nigeria’s northern and central rural regions as ‘communal clashes’ between Muslim herders and Christian farmers, solely attributable to competition for scarce natural resources resulting from climate change.
This is no exaggeration. Just last summer, after Muslim Fulani massacred more than 40 Christians as they peacefully worshipped inside their church on Pentecost Sunday (Jun. 5, 2022), the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, issued a statement exonerating the Fulani and blaming the weather.
But as a Nigerian nun, Sister Monica Chikwe, once observed,
It’s tough to tell Nigerian Christians this isn’t a religious conflict since what they see are Fulani fighters clad entirely in black, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and screaming ‘Death to Christians.’
Or as the Christian Association of Nigeria once asked,
How can it be a [secular or economic] clash when one group [Muslims] is persistently attacking, killing, maiming, destroying, and the other group [Christians] is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed?
The new resolution also, and rather refreshingly, calls out the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari—himself a Fulani, who “has favored and promoted fellow Fulani and other northern Muslim ethnic groups,” while others, chief among them Christians, “are denied equal rights.” There is reason to believe that the Nigerian president has done much worse than discriminate, with several leading Christians in Nigeria accusing him of being complicit in their persecution.
The Chris Smith resolution closes with two resolutions:
(1) the Secretary of State should immediately designate Nigeria a ‘country of particular concern’ for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as mandated by the International Religious Freedom 7 Act of 1998 (22 U.S.C. 6401 et seq.); and (2) in order to ensure that the Secretary of State receives more complete and accurate reporting and analysis, the President should promptly appoint a person of recognized distinction in the fields of religious freedom and human rights as ‘Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region’ with the rank of Ambassador, who reports directly to the Secretary of State and coordinates United States Government efforts to monitor and combat atrocities there.
Although this resolution makes a strong case to return Nigeria to the CPC list, based on precedent, there is reason to doubt it will have the desired effect.
For starters, by removing Nigeria from the CPC list in November, 2021, the Biden administration was simply returning to the status quo. Although jihadists had slaughtered and terrorized Nigeria’s Christians all during President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, when Biden was his Vice President (2009-2017), and although the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom had, beginning in 2009 and every year afterwards, repeatedly urged that Nigeria be designated as a Country of Particular Concern, the Obama administration had obstinately refused to comply.
It was only in 2020, under the Trump administration, that Nigeria was first designated as a CPC— only to be removed the following year under Biden.
To his credit, President Donald Trump had also forthrightly asked the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari—whom many Nigerian officials insist Obama helped bring to power—“Why are you killing Christians?”
For eight years, not only did the Obama State Department refuse to designate Nigeria as a CDC; during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State (2009-2013), she went so far as to refuse to designate Boko Haram in Nigeria as a “terrorist” organization— even though Boko Haram (which roughly translates to “Westernization is forbidden”) is a notorious jihadist group that has slaughtered more Christians and bombed more churches than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria combined.
As is happening now under Biden’s State Department, Clinton’s refusal had 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 insisted that “inequality” and “poverty” are “what’s fueling all this stuff”—a reference to ideologically charged Muslims slaughtering thousands of Christians—to quote her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking in 2012.
Her callousness—reminiscent of 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 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 was ignored by Clinton. 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.
Speaking only recently, former Rep. Frank Wolf (R- Va.), rhetorically asked,
Does anyone remember hashtag BringBackOurGirls? Well, whatever happened, where’re all those guys who went on television and [posted] the hashtag… 50% of the girls did not return. I met with some of the Chibok parents. They wonder what in the name is the world doing.
In short, the Biden administration and its ideological predecessors have a long track record of insisting that Nigeria—where at least one Christian is slaughtered every two hours for their faith—is not even worth the designation of “country of particular concern.”
Raymond Ibrahim is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.