Trump Finally Acts on Nigeria Terrorism?
By Emmanuel Ogebe
The message was viral on WhatsApp. Nigerians were urged to “Please watch President Trumps State Of The Union (SOTU) address tonight…He will mention Nigeria and specifically Rev Andimi” a reference to a Christian leader beheaded by terrorists weeks before.
I did not and he did not. It was one less disappointment for me.
The Trump administration has struck a couple of right notes on religious persecution in Nigeria but the walk hasn’t matched the talk until the announcement of a Special Envoy on the Sahel.
When president Buhari met with president Trump in the Rose garden in 2018 for instance, Trump decried the killings of Christians in Nigeria, to great acclaim (Just days earlier, Rev Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Ityolaha were killed along with 17 members of St Ignatius during morning mass in Benue State.)
However inside the White House, President Trump signed a deal for Nigeria to buy agricultural produce from the U.S.
This means that the Christian farmers in Nigeria are losing their farms to the Muslim Herdsmen , and then losing their markets to U.S. farmers. This wasn’t a very well thought-out policy. As it stands, in 2015, U.S. agricultural exports to Nigeria were worth $667 million, while Nigeria’s agro exports to the U.S. were a mere $32 million. These gave the U.S. a favorable trade balance of more than half a billion dollars!
At the same Rose Garden event, Trump recounted his encounter with two of the escaped Chibok schoolgirls I brought to the US. It made for good optics to reference them but the flip side is that his administration cut funding to the UNFPA agency that was taking care of dozens of the released girls who remained in Nigeria.
Then there’s this. The administration agreed to sell aircraft to the Nigerian regime even though myself and other human rights advocates provided incontrovertible evidence that the Nigerian Airforce used lethal aerial force against Christian communities who were defending themselves from a Muslim Herdsmen onslaught (and again against voters in elections in 2019.)
The latest is even more bizarre. In December 2019, the Trump administration placed Nigeria on a Special Watch List of egregious religious persecutors – a welcome recognition of Nigeria which is the deadliest place to be a Christian – 90% of all Christians killed globally in 2018 were in Nigeria, World Watch Monitor reports.
Then – wait for it – the very next month, Trump placed Nigeria on his Muslim ban list. Rather than provide refugee resettlement to the victims of persecution, he banished them!
Here’s the kicker – barely a week after the USA’s persecution designation of Nigeria, ISIS West Africa (ISWA) beheaded 11 Nigerian Christians on Christmas Day, in retaliation for Trump’s killing of their leader El Baghdadi!
Trump is incredibly popular amongst Nigerian Christians who do not see the irony that he has placed them on his Muslim ban although they’re not Muslim.
So although he did not mention the latest Nigerian victims of terror at the state of the union, despite many staying up through the night to watch it, excuses will be made again.
At the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast, whose theme is religious freedom, Trump had another chance to reference Nigerian modern day martyrs again. prominent Nigerian Archbishop Ben Kwashi, himself a victim and advocate was scheduled to speak before the US President. Instead, Trump spent the time attacking the faith of his political opponents at the Interfaith prayer breakfast whose theme was “religious freedom!”
That same week, the US signed an agreement to repatriate over $300 million looted by an evil Nigerian military dictator who imprisoned and forced me on exile to the US in the ‘90s.
Yet a Nigerian missionary and a college student are at least two Christians known to be unlawfully detained, since last year, by a US-funded anti-trafficking agency. Yes – US taxpayer money is helping keep Christians in prison for their faith in Nigeria. And the US just rewarded Nigeria with more money.
Mr Trump has built a wall against migrants. And he now builds a roof to keep out people flying in from countries he doesn’t like.
One can not be blamed for paraphrasing Bonhoeffer’s words, “ First he banned the Muslims and we said nothing because we were not Muslim then he banned the Africans…”
So A Pastor and an Emir walk into a US embassy. There’s no joke or punch line here. The Emir gets a US visa and the pastor did not.
The pastor had visited the US multiple times even under the Obama administration and also early in the Trump administration.
And as Trump addressed the annual National Prayer Breakfast in February, a liberation hero from South Sudan whom the US helped create and several Nigerian guests, were not in the audience. They failed to get visas even though the visa ban does not apply to them and hadn’t yet taken effect.
A man asked his two sons to do an errand. One said, “sure, dad” but he didn’t do it. The second son said, “no way, dad.” He subsequently did it.
Like Jesus asked after he told this parable, “who did the will of the father – the one who said the right thing or the one who did the right thing?”. One can only wonder between Obama and Trump who this is.
However, one discernible difference between the Obama and Trump administrations is that while some US intelligence and government agents intentionally and systematically intel on the situation in Nigeria https://pjmedia.com/blog/could-boko-haram-be-hillary-clintons-biggest-scandal/, the current administration appears to be sincerely seeking the truth despite pushback by calcified special interests in the bureaucracy.
Secondly, the US renewed the bounty for the capture of Boko Haram’s leaders. It was first instituted over half a dozen years ago by Obama and as I opined then, there’s less to it than meets the eye – so no difference here.
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Thirdly, while Obama sent limited US troops incrementally into Chad, Niger, Cameroun and then Nigeria, the Trump administration is reportedly mulling withdrawals in another equal and opposite reaction.
This brings us to the announcement of my co-panelist in a June 11, 2014 Congressional hearing on terrorism in Nigeria, Dr. Peter Pham as the Special Envoy on the Sahel. Dr Pham is highly knowledgeable on Nigeria and the broader region and in that wise clearly one of the best picks.
On the face of it, this appointment appears to be a fulfillment of a call made by revered ex-congressman Frank Wolf and myself when we were copanelists in a congressional hearing on Nigerian terrorism in 2016.
However fellow activists are concerned that instead of an Envoy for the Lake Chad and Sahel region, the current designation seems to be the Sahel only. While the Sahel encompasses by definition the northernmost tip of Nigeria where Boko Haram and ISWA are concentrated, the Sahel arguably does not include north central Nigeria’s “middlebelt”, southeast or southwest where marauding herdsmen from even outside the borders have come and slaughtered thousands of Christians earning them recognition as the world’s 4th deadliest terrorists.
To some, this delimited mandate would be a huge disappointment if it addresses only half of the terror groups currently plaguing Nigeria.
It is perhaps oddly ironic that just as it took me all of 3 years to get the Obama administration to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terror organization (FTO), it took about as long for the Trump administration to designate a Special Envoy too.
Whatever the case, this is the first real practical action beyond rhetoric and hopefully it is a step in the right direction even if a baby step.
Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian International Human Rights lawyer and US Africa expert writes from Washington where he heads the US NIGERIA LAW GROUP