Congressional hearing examines violence against Christians in Nigeria

Witnesses at a recent Congressional subcommittee hearing discussed continuing attacks by terrorists in Nigeria and ways that the United States can respond to the violence.

Ongoing attacks on Nigerian Christians by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram are "unprovoked and unconscionable," said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the U.S. House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

"People of all faiths - and all people of goodwill – must demand immediate action against this terrorist organization," he urged.

Smith conducted a July 10 hearing before the subcommittee to examine U.S. policy towards Nigeria in light of violence against Christians and ethnic minorities, as well as other political and social problems in the country.

Stressing that stability and rule of law in Nigeria are critical for the entire region and globe, Smith highlighted the country's importance as Africa's largest democracy, most populous nation and largest oil producer.

He explained that Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group in the country – has been carrying out attacks against the Christian community and is reportedly involved with rebels and terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and possibly the Taliban.

U.S. policy in Nigeria must address this violence, as well as other ethnic, political and social challenges in the country, he said, including reactions caused by government brutality, high unemployment rates and "resentment over perceived government corruption."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, testified at the hearing, recognizing that Boko Haram "has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors."

Carson acknowledged that "our understanding is limited at best," but claimed that the group is actually "composed of at least two organizations" with different focuses.

He said that the U.S. government recently designated three individuals associated with Boko Haram as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists" in order to help "expose and isolate" the group's most dangerous leaders.

However, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of Christian Association of Nigeria, argued that the U.S. has not done enough to oppose the violence.

Oritsejafor lamented that despite the designation of individual terrorists, the U.S. State Department has refused to designate the group as a "foreign terrorist organization."

He criticized this decision, saying that the U.S. is sending a clear message to Nigeria and to the world.

"It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted," he said.

Oritsejafor also rejected the idea that Boko Haram is "fragmented and disorganized."

"Since its creation, the Boko Haram network has never hidden its agenda or intentions," he explained, adding that the group, whose name means "Western education is sinful," openly rejects the Nigerian state and seeks to impose Shariah law.

"To this end, Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence," he said. "They seek an end to western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria."

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With an increasing rate of terrorist attacks against Christians, Boko Haram "is not only a northern problem, but a Nigerian problem with global implications," Oritsejafor observed.

He pointed to an attack the previous weekend that left 58 people dead in Christian villages in Jos, an attack for which Boko Haram has already claimed responsibility.

"This is outright terrorism, not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances," he insisted, adding that it is "only a matter of time" before the militant group attempts to bring its extreme agenda to the United States.

Oritsejafor urged the U.S. to lead the international community in taking action, warning that as Boko Haram "increasingly turns towards genocide" against Christians, "history will not forget the actions or the inactions of your great nation."

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