For the greater part of his four year tenure during which he encountered tumultuous and coordinated politically orchestrated campaign of calumny from his opponents of the Democratic party, President Donald Trump of the Republican party consistently took time to call for support for international religious freedom and entrenched this Advocacy for religious pluralism in a new executive order
On many occasions, the president called on administration officials to tackle religious persecution wherever it’s found.
He proceeded to sign an executive order to promote greater protection of religious pluralism all across the World.
In 2016 when the United States of America number 45th President came on board, he welcomed the then freshly inaugurated Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to the White House with a stern warning to put measures in place to tackle the rising state of attacks targeting Christians.
I think the warning by President Donald Trump did not yield the needed resolve on the part of President Muhammadu Buhari to enforce the rule of Law in Nigeria and confront frontally the terrorists who are killing Christians systematically.
President Trump then followed up his stern warning by signing the Executive order On religious freedom.
Then from Salt Lake City, a print journalist reported President Donald Trump as reiterating his support for international religious freedom in an executive order aimed at increasing the government’s outreach to persecuted people of faith around the world.
The order calls on the secretary of state and other top officials to prioritize religious freedom in their work and requests that at least $50 million in foreign assistance funds be earmarked each year for programs that serve and protect faith communities.
It also instructs government leaders to offer trainings on religion to American diplomats working overseas and to empower them to bring up international religious freedom issues when meeting with foreign officials.
“Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States, and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom,” Trump wrote.
The order’s release was timed to coincide with the president’s visit to a shrine honoring Pope John Paul II, who was widely celebrated for his work on behalf of persecuted people of faith. However, the event was overshadowed by Trump’s controversial Monday night appearance in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was only possible because police tear gassed protesters gathered in front of the White House.
“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings,” said Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate” protesters.
The 45th President of USA hosted two high-profile gatherings at the State Department on the subject and, last fall, he spoke about the need to protect religious communities during an appearance at the United Nations.
“Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world,” he said during the UN event.
Although Trump is far from the first president to champion religious freedom both at home and abroad, his administration has gone above and beyond typical procedures, according to experts on religious persecution, so reports the American journalist.
The Journalist then proceeded to state emphatically that before the Donald Trump’s administration’s gatherings on religious freedom at the State Department, it was almost unheard of to have high-level officials come together to discuss the needs of people of faith, said Kristina Arriaga, a former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, to the Deseret News last year.
“Normally when you have international events associated with religious freedom, they’re (attended by) low people in the diplomatic echelon,” she said.
Leaders in the White House, State Department and other agencies are committed to doing everything they can on behalf of people of faith, said Sam Brownback, who serves as U.S. ambassador-at-large on international religious freedom, to the Deseret News last year.
“You had to get an administration that wanted to really push (religious freedom) and that’s what this one does and is,” he said.
“As president, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been,” he said during his appearance at the United Nations last fall.
The then United States administration of Donald Trump did so much to critique the Nigerian government’s lack of interest to stop the attacks against Christians by all kinds of terrorists masquerading as boko haram terrorists, armed Fulani herdsmen and the so called rebaptised armed Fulani bandits.
So it is not completely strange that the man who championed this executive order on religious freedom under Donald Trump has continued to drum up support for the international community to take special interest in the developments around the coordinated attacks against Nigerian Christians and the conspiratorial silence of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It is hoped that President Joe Biden who has not showed any interest about the Nigerian insecurity will be told to use his moral power to force the administration in Abuja to desist from providing what seemed like logistical support to terrorists who are attacking Christians on a regular basis. President Joe Biden is known to have quashed some of the executive orders his predecessor in office Donald Trump originated but it’s unclear if he will implement that of religious freedom which was at the centre of President Donald Trump’s foreign relations policies of which his cabinet level members worked on from different perspectives.
The immediate past United States Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, has now authoritatively said that no fewer than 1,500 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since the beginning of 2021, while others are being held hostage.
Pompeo, who is also a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA), in an article titled, ‘The Persecution of Christians in Nigeria Demands Our Attention,’ which was published by the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on Wednesday, accused the federal government of not doing enough to protect religious freedom.
He said the Nigerian government had downplayed the attacks on Christians, by characterising them as conflicts between herders and farmers rather than as religiously motivated acts of terror.
“At least 1,500 Christians have already been killed in Nigeria during 2021, and even more, have been kidnapped and are either being held hostage or trafficked. The attacks are brutal. Armed radical Islamic groups arrive in a village during the night, kill the men, rape and murder the women, and kidnap the children. The Nigerian government thus far has sought to downplay the attacks, characterising them as conflicts between herders and farmers rather than as religiously motivated acts of terror,” he said.
He urged the federal government to hold terrorists accountable for such characterisations.
He stated that since “Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any African country – over 80 million, nearly half of its people – it is essential that this persecution is snuffed out before it becomes even worse.”
According to him, every single day in Nigeria, Christians are not allowed their right to religious freedom, and are being murdered because of their faith in Jesus.
He said no society that denied its people the right to worship according to their beliefs, or that allowed that right to come under attack without consequence could claim to be truly good.
Pompeo said: “Where religious freedom is denied or ignored, you can be sure that tyranny and oppression are soon to follow. That is why a foreign policy that takes seriously the issue of ensuring religious freedom around the world is critical to serving America’s interests. It is why the ongoing persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Nigeria demands our attention and action.”
He said in 2018, 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, and when a deal was sealed to free most of the girls, only one was held back, Leah Sharibu.
“This unbelievably brave and faithful girl refused to renounce her faith as a Christian; and for that reason, Boko Haram refused to release her and condemned her to slavery. Three years later, she is still being held as a slave by this cowardly terrorist cell in North-east Nigeria,” he said.
Pompeo described Sharibu’s story as tragic, infuriating, and emblematic of a troubling trend of Christian persecution in Nigeria.
Citing Open Doors’ Country Report, Pompeo said more Christians were murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country in the world.
According to him, the number of Christians murdered in Nigeria increased by 60 per cent in 2020.
He said he had personally met with Christian Nigerian leaders and heard their tragic stories of those who had been persecuted because of their faith.
Pompeo stated that during the Trump administration took the important first steps toward dealing with this serious issue in December 2020, when it added Nigeria to the State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) list.
He said the work done by the ACLJ was informative for the State Department when it began to evaluate whether or not to designate Nigeria as a CPC.
He said the team at the State Department recognised that the “Nigerian government was tolerating the systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the religious freedom of its people, allowing them to suffer at the hands of radical Islamic terror.”
Pompeo said the designation signaled to the Nigerian government that swift action on their part was needed to end the persecution, or there would be further consequences in the form of sanctions and increased diplomatic pressure.
According to him, such a designation was part of the broader Trump administration’s approach to take seriously violations of religious freedom around the world, which also included declaring the brutal policies of the Chinese Communist Party toward Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang as genocidal.
“Unfortunately, the tragedy in Nigeria persists,” he added.
Pompeo said the ACLJ was actively engaged in the effort to raise awareness of and demand action regarding the ongoing atrocities committed against Christians in Nigeria.
The ACLJ, according to him, has filed its 18th written submission and made critical oral interventions at the UN Human Rights Council regarding the plight of Christians in Nigeria.
He said: “I’m eager to engage in this work with them as we seek to put a stop to these ongoing tragedies. What is happening to Christians in Nigeria warrants serious action. America has always stood as a beacon for freedom, and we can only back up that responsibility if we take seriously our obligation to stand up for the rights of religious believers around the world. American civil society and the American government need to hold the Nigerian government accountable for its inaction in allowing terrorist organisations like Boko Haram to fester in their nation.
“If the problem is allowed to persist, it will only spread and become worse throughout Africa and around the world. The killing must end.”
Incidentally, as Pompeo was puming out these sets of hard truths about the incessant terror attacks against Christians in Nigeria, President Buhari was busy granting staccato interviews with some television stations in Nigeria but not without even mentioning this critical matter of the violence unleashed by armed terrorists and armed Fulani herdsmen against Christians. President Buhari has consistently denied this obvious truth that Christians are specifically targeted and as the former US secretary Pompeo pointed out, President Buhari has continued to encourage his media minders to try to twist the obvious fact of the attacks against Christians and to portray these attacks to look like a conflict between farmers and pastoralists. This is very far from the truth that has now been unveiled by Pompeo.
The truth is that until we as a Country accept the truth that Christians are specifically targeted for elimination by a range of Islamic and armed Fulani herdsmen and then take steps to bring these killings to an end and arrest, prosecute and punish these terrorists, we will continue to live a lie and pretend that the violence against Christians doesn’t exist.
This attitude which is what President Muhammadu Buhari has played up is dangerous to the wellbeing of Nigeria as an entity. The government’s cabinet level officer uncharged of public prosecution has manifested deep unwillingness to be a patriot but has chosen the path of defending his kinsmen the Fulani and his fellow Moslems who are accused of masterminding these senseless attacks against Christians.
So as long as Abubakar Malami remains the justice minister, the thousands of Christians massacred by Islamists and terrorists including armed Fulani herdsmen will not get justice. However, one thing is sure and that is the universal truism that TRUTH remains constant and at the appropriate time those who killed Christians will have their day in court if not in Nigeria then before the International Criminal Court in The Hague Netherlands for these crimes against humanity that they are committing right under the nose of President Muhammadu Buhari.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was Federal commissioner of the Nigerian National Human Rights commission.