By Owei Lakemfa
AMERICAN President Donald Trump sat on Monday, April 30 with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari who was on a state visit and told him: “We had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria; We are going to be working on that problem very, very hard because we cannot allow that to happen.”
Trump was to repeat that line during the visit: “…we are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches and killing and persecution of Christians. It’s a horrible story.”
As there is no religious war in Nigeria, either Trump is dangerously uninformed or he is deliberately playing the religious card which will cause further bloodshed. As if to violently refute President Trump’s claim, within 24 hours of his incendiary claims and needless threats, there were twin bomb blasts at a mosque beside the Gwonjo Market, Adamawa State in which 42 were killed and 68 injured. The perpetrators, as usual, are terrorists of the Boko Haram group who are a hundred per cent Muslim.
While there have been killing of Christians in Nigeria including the April 24, 2018 murder of Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha and several other parishioners of the St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom, Benue State by suspected Fulani terrorists, the violence in Nigeria is not essentially a religious one. The essential ingredients of the massacres in the country are a mixture of four types of explosives; insurgency, terrorism, banditry and the use of mercenaries, mainly from outside the country to depopulate territories and repopulate them with a different stock. In all four combinations, religion is not a primary ingredient or trigger.
In the Boko Haram terrorist campaign, there is no respect for any religious place of worship; mosques and churches are game as are Christians and Muslims. In the case of banditry which is most pronounced in Zamfara State, the perpetrators and victims, are Muslims. In the invasion by mercenaries, the invaders are Muslims mainly of Fulani stock while the victims in the Middle Belt are Christians of a variety of ethnic groups. In the South-East and South-South, the victims of these mercenaries and bandits are Christians, but in the West, the victims are a combination of Christians and Muslims without discrimination. In fact, in many parts of Oyo State, the victims are Muslims.
If the American government needed to exert pressure on the Buhari government, it would not be by issuing threats about Christian victims, but a concern about Nigerians being massacred irrespective of their faith. The American pressure ought to be on the Buhari administration to recognise that the perpetrators; be they Kanuris and Ebiras in Boko Haram, Fulanis and herdsmen in the mercenary invasions, Hausas and other ethnic groups in the Zamfara Bandits Movement, are criminals that must be defeated. The pressure to be exerted should be that the Nigerian government recognises insurgency, accepts that it should not be handled with kid gloves and that the future of the country depends on the decisive handling of the insurgents.
On the other hand, Trump might be conscious of what he is saying; that he is neither ignorant nor misinformed, but merely playing the religious card. There are strong indicators of this; the American government is usually well informed and has access to good intelligence reports and analysis. Therefore, Trump may deliberately be appealing to his evangelist supporters by holding himself out as the defender of Christians and Christian values not only in the US, but worldwide. This will fit well with his known religious bigotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric which saw him imposing travel ban on travellers from some Muslim countries. He has also played this type of card in the Syrian case in which in January 2017, he directed that greater concession be given Syrian Christian refugees than their Muslim compatriots.
The hypothesis of a religious card might not be as farfetched as some may think if only they recall Africa’s colonial experiences. For instance, the British used the religious card to colonise Uganda, considered in the 19th Century, as the “Pearl of Africa.” Islam was introduced into Buganda in 1867 and the Muslims were backed by Islamic countries like Turkey. In June, 1877, the British introduced Protestant Christianity through the Church Missionary Society, CMS. The Protestants were backed by the British Empire, while Catholicism, introduced in 1879, was backed by German and French imperialism.
In order to win the colonialism contest, and at very minimal costs, the British East African Company brought in a mercenary, Frederick Lugard. His plan was simple; raise false alarm about religious conflicts, play one side against the other, and when the Ugandans might have sufficiently weakened themselves in religious conflicts, introduce the British force to demolish the remnants of the Ugandan military. First, Lugard supplied arms to the Catholics and actually fought on their side to defeat the Muslims. After the victory of the Kabaka Mwanga, Lugard armed the protestants to fight the war-weary Catholics. After Kabaka Mwanga was forced to flee, Lugard got him to sign a Treaty and reinstated him. Under the Treaty, Uganda was carved out into 20 parts; 12 parts for the Protestants, 8 for the Catholics and 2 for the Muslims. When Kabaka Mwanga resisted the balkanisation and mobilised some other groups to join in a coalition, Lugard seized and sent him to exile in Seychelles. The British then signed an ‘Agreement’ with Mwanga’s infant son, ceding the country to it.
It is also not impossible that the American administration is eyeing Nigerian oil which is in the South with Christian populations.
Trump who promised to help Nigeria recover $500 million looted funds, spoke condescendingly that “Nigeria has a reputation for very massive corruption.” This, he said Buhari is doing something about. He then made a jest about Nigeria’s purchase of American military equipment: “Oh, oh. We love helicopters. He (Buhari) likes them more than I do. He likes buying helicopters.” Then added the salesman part: “they are the best helicopters anywhere in the world. We make the best military equipment in the world.”
Trump humoured his guest that “there’s no country more beautiful than Nigeria” and said firmly: “We give Nigeria well over one billion dollars in aid every year.” In return, he said Nigeria has to rip “down those trade barriers” between the countries and allow American goods free flow. If the Buhari government were to give in to the Trump bullying tactics, she might have to brace up for American GMO agriculture products and other goods flooding the Nigerian market and muscling out small scale farmers, producers and industrialists. This is additional to the military equipment the Americans are selling to Nigeria. On balance, Trump seems to be making a profit for American business.