Slaughter in Nigeria: Where is the State Dept?

An explosion devastated a busy bus station on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Monday, April 14, 2014. It was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks on Africa’s most populous nation. No group had claimed credit for the attack as of Monday, but Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan laid the blame at the feet of Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group seeking the eradication of Christians and the Islamization of Nigeria.  

The blast took place at 6:55 a.m. according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). Reuters reported at least 71 dead and 124 injured, but on Tuesday, Punch raised the number dead to 89, including three perpetrators, with 257 injured. And this was not the week’s only attack. 

Just days earlier, Boko Haram jihadists killed some 200 in Borno, a northeastern Nigerian state that has seen far more than its share of jihad terrorism. Punch reported that on April 9-10 attacks took place on communities in several towns, as well as on a teachers’ training college and a group of students traveling to their matriculation exams. Boko Haram seemed determined to show that “western education is forbidden.”

Rarer was Monday’s attack on Abuja’s Nyanya Mass Transit Park – demonstrating the terrorists’ brazenness, operating in the country’s capital, as well as the northern and middle state belts to which they have already laid claim. The blast destroyed 16 high-capacity buses and damaged another 24, as well as affecting smaller vehicles, a police spokesman told Reuters. Many of the buses were loaded with commuters, so the attack left a hellish scene of charred bodies, body parts, and twisted metal. In Tuesday’s report, Punch told of an eyewitness who said that the attack was carried out by four insurgents in a Volkswagen Golf.

According to NAN, many of the commuters in this transit point for the satellite communities of the Federal Capital Territory surrounding Abuja were on their way to work and their businesses. But Nigerian attorney and human rights activist Emmanuel Ogebe pointed out that this attack took place on the first day of Holy Week in a country in which Easter is a major holiday.

“Abuja is emptying out as people travel to their home states for the long holiday,” said Ogebe. He believes the bus station was targeted deliberately on the week of Easter. This would be no surprise, as a majority of Islamist attacks in Nigeria target Christians, Christian holidays (holy days), and have occurred at churches and Christian schools and universities.

When President Jonathan visited the scene of the carnage, Reuters said he denounced “the activities of those who are trying to move our country backwards,” mentioning Boko Haram by name. The Nigerian government has not been successful in stopping Boko Haram, nor in assisting those who have been victimized the jihadists. But even their efforts in that direction have been constantly criticized for heavy-handedness and/or unfairness by the US State Department. The State Department favors a more nuanced approach to northern Nigerian Islamists.

For years, in the face of aggressive advocacy by the Working Group on Nigeria, a coalition of Christian and human rights groups based in Washington, DC, along with some members of Congress, and even the Treasury and Justice Departments, the State Department resisted naming Boko Haram as terrorists, seeing them as victims of poverty and disenfranchisement. Then, a scant two hours before the start of a November 13, 2013 House Joint-Subcommittee hearing on “The Rising Global Threat of Boko Haram & US Policy Intransigence,” their policy suddenly became less intransigent and they announced the designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru (a Boko Haram splinter faction) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). 

But even on the very day on which they called Boko Haram terrorists for the first time, the State Department displayed mixed feelings and moral equivalence regarding the jihadists. Testifying at the House hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “Boko Haram’s activities call our attention not just to violence, but also to poverty and inequality in Nigeria.” It’s true that there is poverty and inequality in Nigeria. But none of it touches Boko Haram. They carried out their latest slaughter in two armored personnel cars and seven double cabin pickups, according to Punch.

In addition, the State Department is always loath to attribute religious motivation to Boko Haram (or any other Islamists). In her testimony, Thomas-Greenfield rolled out the typical State Department talking point that Boko Haram “had killed numerous Christians and an even greater number of Muslims.”

The death of every human being killed by Boko Haram, whether Muslim or Christian, is a tragedy, but the US government’s downplaying of the deliberate and strategic killing of Nigeria’s Christians is offensive. The Working Group on Nigeria refuted the erroneous statement in a November 20, 2013 letter to Thomas-Greenfield, saying: 

Based on 2012 data, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 60 percent of Christians killed globally.  Our statistics also show that overwhelmingly more Christians than Muslims have been targeted and killed by Boko Haram. Last year, our database shows that attacks on Christians represented 46%, Muslims 3%, Government 20%, other categories accounted for the rest.


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