SCHILLING: Nigerian Christians Are Being Persecuted — The US Should Help

Terry Schilling Contributor
Font Size:

There’s no other way to say it — Nigerian Christians are facing a state of crisis. Ever since the election of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, living and worshipping as a Christian in Africa’s most populous country has become ever more difficult and ever more dangerous.

The difficulties range from government-imposed mandates — such as the requirement for all Christian Ministers to register and be state-approved — to Muslim Fulani militias who are waging a war of ethnic cleansing across Nigeria’s Middle Belt, leaving a trail of destruction and death in their wake.

In just one six-month period in 2018, the Christian Association of Nigeria estimates that 6,000 Christians were murdered in the region. The NGO Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) has described the killings as filling all the criteria of a genocide. And yet the Nigerian government, under President Buhari, has done absolutely nothing to prevent or even deter the killings. Buhari is also a Muslim Fulani, and his fellow Fulanis represented a critical voting bloc that helped him emerge victorious in his recent re-election campaign that was marred by overwhelming evidence of voter intimidation and vote tampering.

Christians, their families, and their churches are currently collateral damage in Nigeria’s brutal politics. The erosion of freedom of religious worship is one element of a crackdown on liberties under Buhari: the rule of law is ignored, the free press is attacked, and the judicial branch is treated as a tool of the ruling party. All of these — most importantly the rule of law — are precious elements of democracy. Without them, democracy will perish and dictatorship will return to this nascent democratic country.

Often it is better to express the gravity of the situation not merely with statistics but with evidence of personal, individual suffering. There is no shortage of that in Nigeria. Just this week, Grace Taiga has been detained without legal representation and without access to the medical care she needs. Grace is in her late 70s and is a retired civil servant. She is both a diabetic and on dialysis (amongst other serious health issues). Pleas for her to be able to return home to get proper medical treatment have been dismissed.

Why is this practicing Christian being detained illegitimately? Grace is being held in an attempt to intimidate her into supporting Buhari’s efforts to evade a particular court judgment. Grace was a witness at the signing of a contract between the Nigerian government and the energy company P&ID, which is now the subject of a lawsuit that the Buhari government has lost. This intimidatory tactic of unlawful detention is designed to coerce Grace into retracting her genuine eyewitness account, and instead to toe the false Buhari line. The cynicism and cruelty of threatening an innocent pensioner, to pursue an anti-democratic political agenda, belies belief.

The unlawful detainment of Grace also raises a larger question: is the Buhari regime in violation of the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act? The Global Magnitsky Act allows the Trump administration to revoke visas and impose sanctions against individuals who are responsible for or acted as an agent for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

How many more Christians have to die before the world stands up in their defense? How many more innocents have to suffer threats and intimidation, like Grace? The U.S. government must now intervene to defend the rule of law and freedom in Nigeria. Grace must be released, and freedom must be restored. If not, it would be morally indefensible for the United States to continue to do business with the Buhari government.

Terry Schilling (@PizzaPolitico) is the executive director of American Principles Project, a conservative nonprofit group dedicated to putting human dignity at the heart of public policy.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.