The 2015 Annual Religious Report of the United States Commission on International Religious freedom (USCIRF) has yesterday condemned Nigeria’s military
approach to Boko Haram. It also indicted the Nigerian government, saying that the government’s almost exclusively military approach to Boko Haram contributes to ongoing terrorism in the country.
The 8-page report which was presented to journalists at the Department of States in Washington, DC by the Chairperson of the Commission, Mrs Katrina Lantos Swett, makes it known that the Nigerian government does not actively perpetrate religious freedom abuses, but does tolerate northern and southern state laws and practices that result in religious freedom violations.
The report also says that religious freedom conditions in Nigeria are being strained by Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks against Christians and Muslims, recurring sectarian violence, and escalating interfaith tensions. It stressed that while the federal government does not engage in religious persecution, it fails to implement effective strategies to prevent or stop terrorism or sectarian violence and does not bring to justice those responsible for such violence.
“The Nigerian government’s almost exclusively military approach to Boko Haram contributes to ongoing terrorism in the country. Boko Haram exploits sectarian fissures to manipulate religious tensions and destabilize Nigeria” it notes.
Based on these concerns, the Commission again recommends that Nigeria be designated as a “country of particular concern” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). It would be recalled that the USCIRF first recommended Nigeria which was on the Commission’s Tier 2 (Watch List) from 2002-2009 be designated a CPC in 2009.
The report further notes that managing ethnic diversity and developing a national identity has been, and continues to be, a problem for Nigerians and the Nigerian government, especially between its Muslim North and Christian South. It adds that elective posts must be religiously balanced from both regions in order to address this challenge.
The report presses further that the State Department and Nigeria security experts are unhappy with the Nigerian government for failing to implement a holistic response to the insurgency that includes counter- and de-radicalization programs and economic and social development initiatives.
While making recommendations, the report says that Nigeria has the capacity to improve religious freedom conditions by more fully addressing Boko Haram and sectarian violence, and will only realize respect for human rights, lasting progress, security, stability, and prosperity as a democracy if it does so.
Moreover, USCIRF says in the report that it is concerned that the charged rhetoric used by political and religious leaders could lead to an escalation of violence and a more divided, sectarian Nigeria. For these reasons, the Commission recommends that the U.S. government designate Nigeria as a CPC.
In addition to so designating Nigeria, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should seek to enter into a binding agreement with the Nigerian government, as defined in section 405(c) of IRFA, and be prepared to provide financial and technical support to help the Nigerian government commit to undertake reforms to address policies leading to violations of religious freedom.
It also asks the US to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and bring to justice perpetrators of all past and future incidents of sectarian violence and terrorism; and as well develop effective conflict-prevention and early-warning mechanisms at the local, state, and federal levels using practical and implementable criteria.
The report further asks Nigeria to develop the capability to deploy specialized police and army units rapidly to prevent and combat sectarian violence in cities around the country where there has been a history of sectarian violence; and as well take steps to professionalize its police and military forces in its counter-terrorism, investigative, community policing, crowd control, and conflict prevention capacities by conducting specialized training for its military and security forces on human rights standards, as well as non-lethal responses to crowd control and quelling mob or communal violence.
Calling for the imposition of visa ban on persons who instigate sectarian violence in Nigeria, the report also says there is a need to hold a joint session of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission working groups on good governance and security to address issues of Nigeria’s recurrent sectarian violence and failure to prosecute perpetrators.
Urging the Nigerian government to create a Ministry of Northern Affairs and provide technical assistance to this new body to address the socio-economic disparities in the north that fuel the creation and continuation of Boko Haram, the report advises the Nigerian government in the development of de-radicalization and community reintegration programs for youth and women enslaved by Boko Haram.