(Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
A Nigerian pastor is blaming the country's weak government on the Islamist sect Boko Haram's continuous attacks against the Christian population, and has called on the United States to officially declare the group a terrorist organization.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), made his argument on July 10 in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Sub-committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights in Washington, D.C.
Oritsejafor called on the United States to officially declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization. Although the U.S. has named some members of the sect as terrorist leaders, it has yet to recognize the entire sect as a terrorist organization.
"This would be the equivalent of designating Bin Laden as a terrorist, but failing to designate al-Qaida as a terrorist organization," Ortisejafor told the committee.
"There are certain Muslim extremists who believe that Nigeria must be an Islamic nation [and] Boko Haram is the body that is fronting for this group of persons… [Nigeria] has a very well divided population among the two major religions [Christianity and Islam], so it's not possible to Islamize Nigeria," Oritsejafor said, as reported by Voice of America,.
Additionally, Oritsejafor said that government officials must communicate to the leaders of the Boko Haram sect and prove to them that Nigeria is impossible to Islamize due to its large Christian population, which account for half of the country's people, according to country censuses.
"It is important for us to know that the brain behind Boko Haram is an ideology…which comes from clerics. These teachers that promote the ideology of Boko Haram happen to be Islamic teachers and clerics," Oritsejafor said, according to Voice of America.
"What we are saying to our Muslim leader friends in the north is for them to reach out to these clerics to help convince these young men that it's not possible to Islamize Nigeria," he added.
Although Oritsejafor was very adamant about quelling Boko Haram's impact on his country, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary and the representative of President Barack Obama at the committee meeting, said the U.S. must practice discretion when dealing with Boko Haram for fear of retaliation.
"Before we prescribe actions, it is important that we understand what Boko Haram is and what it is not. The truth is that our understanding is limited at best," Carson told the committee, according to The Guardian of Nigeria.
Fear of retaliation from Boko Haram is on many politicians' minds. As Carson told the committee, the Islamic sect takes advantage of the country's poverty and poor infrastructure for attacks.
"Boko Haram capitalizes on popular frustrations with the nation's leaders, poor government, ineffective service delivery, and dismal living conditions for many northerners," Carson told the committee.
Boko Haram has been involved in a series of attacks in Nigeria since 2009, with particularly devastating bomb attacks occurring last Christmas against Christian churches.
Additionally, the sect has made Abubakar Shekau, who has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist, its leader. Shekau has released a series of YouTube videos in which he speaks on his goal to serve Islam through the attacks.
"I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams," Shekau told the camera in a YouTube video published shortly after the group's violent attack in early 2012 in Kano, Nigeria's most populated city, in which 180 people were killed.
Oritsejafor concluded his talk to the committee by saying that as a Christian leader, he has an obligation to speak about the atrocities happening in his country, and he feels the Nigerian government must take a more active role to stop the violence pulsating through this African country.
"I will tell you their best is not good enough because …allowing churches to be burned and Christians shot at every Sunday for the last month, I don't think that best is best. I think more should be done," he said.