In the United States, religion is recognized as a basic human right that everyone, everywhere, can always enjoy. But that isn’t a globally shared belief, and in fact, there are places in this world where Christians risk everything to follow Jesus Christ. Nigeria is one of those places.
An increasingly vocal worldwide group – including government and religious leaders, victim’s advocacy groups, policy experts and others – has unequivocally and repeatedly stated that without Western intervention, the country is headed down a road similar to Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Myanmar. A new report backs up their claims.
The International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) released a data report titled “Nigeria’s Silent Slaughter: Genocide in Nigeria and the Implications for the International Community.” The report includes firsthand testimonies of the atrocities that have been taking place in Nigeria over the last 20 years, including statements from witnesses of victims that have been targeted specifically for their Christian faith. It reveals that more than 62,000 Nigerians have been killed as a result of the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani Militants and clearly makes a prima facie case for the religious persecution and genocide that has been ongoing and relentless for the last two decades.
Beyond this, our tracker shows that more than 2,300 Nigerians have been killed already this year (more than 600 last month alone). Just last week, Boko Haram brutally executed five aid workers and others they’d captured in June that were on their way to help some of Nigeria’s most vulnerable. The attack was allegedly intended to send a message to area Christians. Additionally, according to recent reports, at least 50 Christians have been killed in attacks in southern Kaduna in the last month and a half.
The Nigerian government claims to be “on top of the situation,” but clearly, persecution and genocide continue to take place.
In fact, instead of taking action to stop the violence, the country’s own government has stood by idly as the terrorist activities of Boko Haram and Fulani Militants spill the blood of innocent Nigerian people. As a result, Nigeria and the Lake Chad region have been transformed into an epicenter of terrorism and a ticking time bomb. Geopolitical and inter-group tensions have risen so high that any random event could trigger a major catastrophe.
While this problem may seem worlds away, it isn’t. Nigeria’s crisis is not Nigeria’s alone. For example, more than 3 million have been displaced and 300,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The entire region is in a state of emergency as it struggles with extreme food insecurity and suffers from violent terrorist attacks.
The ripple effect continues into Europe where enormous numbers of Nigerians have sought protection from religious persecution. In 2016, more than 35,000 Nigerian refugees arrived in Italy via Libya, adding to an overwhelming humanitarian crisis triggered by the Syrian Civil War. In recent years, human trafficking of Nigerian women has become a massive criminal problem in Italy.
The U.S. and other Western nations must consider national security threats resulting from Nigerian instability. While ISIS may be in retreat in the Middle East, it has found a new and powerful ally in Boko Haram, which is entrenched in northern Nigeria. Like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria before it, an unstable Nigeria is becoming the new breeding ground for Islamist terrorists.
Further, Nigeria is an important economic partner for the U.S. The U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, and Nigeria imports more than $5.5 billion U.S.-originated goods per year.
Nigeria is at a critical point that the U.S. cannot afford to ignore as the lynchpin of regional stability and a strategic partner with the U.S. in the struggle against extremism. Swift and precise policy decisions from the U.S., in partnership with Nigerian civil society, can have profound stabilizing effects.
President Donald Trump and his administration have already taken important steps to address this, but more needs to be done. In light of this report, we’re specifically urging the administration to prioritize discussions around sending a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer.
For far too long, there has been a great darkness in Nigeria where people of faith face persecution and daily violence. We have a duty to do everything in our power to put an end to that darkness, stop the violence, and return peace to Nigeria. President Trump, please heed the calls of the innocent Christians in Nigeria and take action to stop the needless killing now.
Stephen S. Enada is Executive President of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), which he co-founded in 2017. ICON exists because injustice and a lack of inclusive governance that falls along ethnoreligious fault lines threatens the stability of Africa’s most important nation. ICON works in both the U.S. and in Nigeria to raise awareness and build collaborative partnerships to address both the religious liberty at home and violations of religious freedom abroad.