The world has become aware of ISIS and its depredations in Syria, Iraq, and Libya and for its deleterious and expanding influence across the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the massive death toll, human suffering, systematized and theologized rape, the U.S. and other governments have done very little to protect those in danger. Perhaps it should not be surprising then, that there exists similar apathy to the plight of those killed and persecuted by the Islamist factions in northern Nigeria and that it remains largely unaddressed (though not by the IRD) The last century saw the death of untold millions at the hands of anti-Christian (and anti-Jewish) totalitarian regimes as the civilized world did nothing. We cannot allow this century to tell the same dreadful story.
On August 2nd, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, primate of the (Anglican) Church of Nigeria and its millions of members, spoke after mass at St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church in Leesburg, Virginia. After answering some questions about the state of the Nigerian Church and the global Anglican Communion, Archbishop Okoh was asked if he would share his testimony. Though raised an Anglican, he joined the army as a teenager before he was confirmed, and became involved in Nigeria’s civil war. Due to the often brutal nature of the conflict, the soldiers found it difficult to return to ordinary life once the conflict ended. According to Archbishop Okoh’s testimony, the government pointed the soldiers to the Church in an effort to re-civilize them. This ultimately led to Okoh’s return to the Church as a sweeper, from which he went on to become the leader of the national Church. The Church of Nigeria (and presumably the other Christian minorities) had a calming and civilizing effect on the young men who had seen so much evil.
Nigerian Islam, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite effect on its adherents. Groups like Boko Haram and the Fulani terrorize northern Nigeria, killing hundreds and displacing thousands from their homes. Only last year we saw the widely publicized kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian girls into sex slavery by Boko Haram. Archbishop Okoh asked for prayers for his Church even as he told the congregation that Nigerian Anglicans prayed for American Christians and their struggle with rampant secularism and the increasingly powerful gay rights movement.
Emmanuel Ogebe, a prominent international human rights lawyer, spoke two days later with Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute on the situation in Nigeria at a Family Research Council event. Raised and educated in Nigeria, Ogebe was later exiled to the United States during General Abacha’s dictatorship. He testified that in 2012, more Christians were killed in northern Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. This statistic has only changed recently because of the number of Christians killed by ISIS, not because the Nigerian death toll has diminished. According to Ogebe, Boko Haram (the Nigerian Islamic terror group) killed the most people of any group in 2014. Boko Haram and ISIS are so brutal that Al Qaeda has reportedly repudiated them both! Boko Haram and ISIS are now engaged in a friendly rivalry of sorts to be the biggest and worst terror group – and the one that will get the most media attention – through public kidnappings and executions.
Ogebe spoke with frustration about the actions of the U.S.’ former ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, who called the situation in northern Nigeria merely “a war within Islam.” Campbell also opposed the designation of Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the state department. Ogebe argued that this attitude is widespread within the state department and other agencies within the government; consequently, the U.S. government has spent over $5 billion to fight ISIS, but has only given $5 million to fight Boko Haram.
The western response, according to Ogebe, has only been to add insult to injury; African Christians are “caught between virulent Islam and virulent liberalism, both attacking our faith.” While Christians are being slaughtered and women are being abducted and are raped and impregnated with the terrorists’ babies, President Obama on his visit to Africa took the opportunity to highlight the need for gay rights. In response to the plight of Muslim women who, raped and impregnated by the men of Boko Haram, are threatened with stoning for immorality if they escape back to their homes, the United Nations chose to pressure Nigeria to legalize abortion. Ogebe opined, “There’s one thing being politically correct, but at some point you are endangering people’s lives.”
This danger was made real to the staff and guests of the IRD when two priests from northern Nigeria visited our office to tell their stories and inform us of the situation and how we could help. We saw a father weeping at the memory of having nowhere to hide his 4-year-old daughter when his church was threatened by an armed and angry mob from the nearby mosque. We heard how Christians are burned alive in their churches while Islamic militants stand at the windows and doors, machine guns at the ready. The priests chided American Christians for their indifference and for their lack of vision regarding the goals of the Islamic world for the subjugation of other religions. Christianity has and will continue to be a stabilizing force for Nigerian democracy, but the silence and indifference to the suffering and death of Nigerian Christians must end.