Nigeria Deserves the U.S.'s Tough Love on Religious Freedom | Opinion

This week, Nigeria received some well-deserved tough love from the United States—its friend and ally. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added the African nation to the Department of State's annual list of the world's most heinous violators of religious freedom.

The secretary said, "The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience."

Nigeria now has the unfortunate distinction of being the only secular democracy ever added to the infamous list.

The country will be listed alongside Iran, China and North Korea. That's because, like those countries, Nigeria is either unwilling or unable to provide this fundamental human right to its citizenry.

It's an astonishing indictment of Africa's largest economy and most populated country. It is a direct signal that the patience the United States has long reserved for its great African friend is wearing thin. It also demonstrates a change in public opinion in the United States—Americans will no longer sit idly by amid reports and images from almost daily atrocities. "Why," they and many elected officials are beginning to ask, "are we sending one billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer assistance annually?"

We hope, as we wrote in our book The Next Jihad, that this decision will be a sufficient shock to the Nigerian system that the deadly status quo will change, immediately and permanently.

The Nigerian government shouldn't do it for the United States. It should act on behalf of the tens of thousands of Nigerian families whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, whose children have been kidnapped and whose clergy have been massacred in grotesque videos placed brazenly posted on the internet. The terrorists have even taunted Nigeria's leaders as if they already own the country.

This situation has become so outrageous that even a Christian wedding was attacked earlier this year. Spraying bullets in the air and screaming "Allahu Akbar," the terrorists kidnapped everyone who was unable to escape—including the bride and groom. Not long after, in a neighboring village, the terrorists killed so many families that it's hard to keep track of them. One father was 40 and his wife was 32. Their children were thirteen, six and four. Another mom in the same village was killed. Afterwards they hacked to death her six-year-old, and shot her three-month-old. During a recent visit, we met with multiple survivors of terrorism who described to us the selection process employed by terrorist kidnappers along the country's well-traveled highways. A recently ransomed young woman told us the terrorists had asked her and others their religions, with the intention of releasing the Muslim men, shooting the Christian men and kidnapping the Christian women.

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 24, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty

Though it has the muscle to finish off the terrorist insurgency in the northeastern part of the country, the Nigerian government has failed to show the political will to do so. Unsurprisingly it now faces a second front with radicalized Fulani tribesmen in the Middle Belt who are increasingly appropriating the terrorist tactics of Boko Haram and ISIS in West Africa as they pillage and burn Christian communities by the hundreds—killing thousands along the way.

It's time for Nigeria's government to start calling terrorism by its name, whether perpetrated by Boko Haram, ISIS or the small subgroup of radicalized Fulani tribesmen—the tribe of President Muhammadu Buhari himself.

The United States is sending a clear message: enough is enough.

Now, Nigeria's leaders have a choice: Take the necessary action to end the terrorist insurgencies in the northeast, stop the raids in the center of the country, prosecute every perpetrator and end the endemic corruption that facilitates nationwide kidnapping and extortion schemes.

Or, Nigeria can further isolate itself—ignoring the warnings of its friends—and fall further into the arms of China's oil-hungry communists or make itself more vulnerable to the ambitions of others (like Iran) in the region. That choice is not up to the current or incoming U.S. secretary of state. It's up to the Nigerians themselves.

Many Christians in Nigeria are approaching this Christmas with a sense of dread, as traveling to see loved ones over the holidays will make them especially vulnerable targets for brazen kidnapping and other forms of mayhem and murder perpetrated by terrorists and their associates. It must stop now.

People of faith have the right to be protected. Nigeria, like every government, has a responsibility to keep them safe.

The United States of America has made its opinion clear. This Christmas all eyes will be on Nigeria. We know what the terrorists are planning. Will Abuja finally have the courage to end the carnage once and for all?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rev. Johnnie Moore are the authors of The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.