Two weeks ago I informed Nigerian Congressmen and women about this deplorable disrepute during my lecture to the Nigerian House of Representatives, Committee on Human Rights. Invited by the Chairman of the Committee, the Hon. Beni Lar, to address the topic of Ethnicity, Conflict, and Human Rights, I pointed out that the Nigerian Constitution reflects the broadest range of religious freedom exercise recognized within international law. I asked, "What good is this right in principle when in practice there is a societal actor, namely the Boko Haram, which strikes fear with bomb blasting of churches during worship services?" I called for an end to impunity because the predictable and certain result of impunity is more violence. I explained what it means within U.S. law that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a U.S. government funded agency, had just submitted its recommendation that Nigeria receive US Department of State designation as a "country of particular concern" under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act which would trigger a menu of remedies for engagement.
The discussant to my lecture, Professor Muhammed Tabiu from the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, emphasized that the religious freedom called for in the Nigerian Constitution is even broader then the freedoms articulated within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He stated that the legal framework has done all that it can do and that the improvement must take place "on the ground." With respect to religious extremism, he noted that "lack of respect for human rights are a daily occurrence." Prof. Tabiu also agreed with my criticism of the US Department of State's surprising endorsement of a federal Sharia court of appeal. Jubilee Campaign has yet to find anyone other than the Boko Haram terror group calling for more sharia. I had noted that this illustrates how the US Department of State fundamentally misunderstands and misrepresents the constitution of Nigeria. Prof. Tabiu clarified that there are state courts of appeals for the Sharia courts and that the Constitution of Nigeria reflects a "reasonable compromise" accommodating Muslims as well as Christians in the context of state level Sharia and customary courts.
I also pointed out that in addition to mistakes about Nigerian law, there are also mistakes as to facts. USCIRF for instance reported that only Muslims had been convicted of religious violence. This is however not accurate. Jubilee is involved in a case where Christians, arrested for curfew violation were wrongly convicted of terrorism. The attorney general of Plateau State also has previously provided updates of prosecutions which included a number of Christians arrested and charged in relation to incidents of violence.
Following the close of the Congressional Human Rights Committee session, four Northern Nigeria Congressmen pulled me aside to dialogue about how dangerous and "explosive" my factual statement about the religious identity of the victims in the death toll was. One of the Congressmen insisted that more Muslims have been killed by Boko Haram, and that mosques in the north were also bombed by Boko Haram affiliated actors. When I told him that my data consisting of specific incidents researched from Nigerian media and NGO sources can be found at http://factsnigeriaviolence.wordpress.com/, he could only provide anecdotal claims to support his contention that more Muslims were killed. Ironically, neither the U.S. Department of State's human rights report on Nigeria nor recent Human Rights Watch reports have provided more than anecdotal references for the same unsupported proposition that more Muslims have been killed by Boko Haram. Moreover, the fact that moderate Muslims have been killed by Boko Haram should be the real "explosive" cause for all of Nigerians to unite and seek the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the violence.
Coincidentally, the next evening of May 3 I caught an interview on Al Jazeera entitled, "Jailed Boko Haram rebels seek pardon." Imprisoned since last August, Ibrahim Mohammed told the interviewer, "Yes my belief is that there should be Islamic law, and we have chosen to take up arms against people who do not want Sharia." Another fighter detailed the attacks he perpetrated which he prefaced with the statement, "Between me and God I took up arms to fight." When asked about the death of innocent bystanders, the third militant explained that such a death would be by a "mistake" and that "if he dies he is innocent and we don't worry at all. We are forgiven by God." Chilling. Without any hint of remorse from them concerning their actions on victims or victims' families, their lawyer and the interviewer described their efforts to obtain amnesty and prompt release. Amnesty would be a travesty and injustice of the worst kind to innocent victims. Nothing indicates these three men would not resume their jihad to impose Sharia law, as they so clearly stated on camera was the reason why they took up arms.
It seems that following a plea from the governor of Borno State, Kassim Shettima, that his state was on the brink of a takeover by the Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan responded with a declaration of a state of emergency as well as sending military troops to Maiduguri, known to be Boko Haram's stronghold. After the militants again attacked the government, killed civilians, and seized property, Nigeria's military sent several thousand troops and imposed a 24 hour curfew in Maiduguri. The military seized stock piles of weapons, including sophisticated rocket-propelled grenades, killed 10 militants, and arrested 63, according to Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera reported yesterday that the blockade of supply routes to Boko Haram seems to achieving the goal of causing militants to flee their bases.
The predictable response from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned, "We are also deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations, which, in turn, only escalate the violence and fuel extremism. The United States condemns Boko Haram's campaign of terror in the strongest terms. We urge Nigeria's security forces to apply disciplined use of force in all operations, protect civilians in any security response, and respect human rights and the rule of law." The U.S. Department of State's response once again could not be more convoluted and confused as to who the perpetrators of human rights violations and spread of carnage are. In fact, as reported by Al Jazeera and others, the violent takeover of Borno state and other territories by the Boko Haram are being contained as per the state of emergency.
For example, as reported by The Independent on May 8 "The Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram is thought to have been behind a deadly siege on the northeastern town of Bama on Tuesday that left 55 people dead...Boko Haram is a terror group that wants to carve out an Islamic state in a country split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims." This article goes on to explain that its more recent tactics have resulted from "the help Boko Haram has received from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a branch of the international terrorist network based in the Saharan states of Mali, Niger and Algeria."
It seems that the Nigerian government is seeking to contain known militants responsible for weekly incidents of carnage and destruction on civilians. We continue to encourage the end to impunity and the restoration of peace for all civilians in the north of Nigeria.