The international community has yet to recognize genocide occurring now in Nigeria. Christian minorities in Nigeria’s northern and central belt states are slaughtered in the thousands by Fulani jihadists who gain violent traction on a road paved by President Buhari’s complicity and Boko Haram’s support. In a discussion hosted by In Defense of Christians (IDC) on June 25, five esteemed experts shared their testimonies and solutions for the Nigerian persecution: Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, Bishop Mathew Kukah Kukah, Congressman Frank Wolf (retired), Dr. Gregory Stanton, and USCIRF Commissioner Rev. Johnnie Moore.
There is no doubt, in any of the panelists’ minds, that the Nigerian government is ignoring the systematic killing of Christians in Nigeria, if not actively supporting it. Islamic extremists have killed at least 27,000 Nigerians—more people than ISIS slaughtered in Syria and Iraq combined. It is considered to be the third most dangerous country in the world, following Afghanistan and Iraq. Congressman Wolf argues that the escalating violence in Nigeria could further destabilize the surrounding countries and open staging territory for attacks on the West.
Moore supports the testimonies of the other panelists with his own observations from a recent visit to Nigeria. “The persecution is much worse” than he expected “and what the people in the United States would believe,” he declared.
People in the United States, of course, first need to hear of the killings to believe them. But the media and NATO allies have, by and large, ignored the atrocities in Nigeria. “We didn’t hear at all,” Stanton, founder of the Genocide Watch, observes, “of the Fulani jihadists who killed over 7000 people last year.”
If both the Nigerian government and the international community continues to ignore the genocide, the panelists forecast a bleak future for West Africa. Kukah concludes that the most sacred duty of the government is to protect its citizens, especially the vulnerable, and a government that fails to protect the poor “will have a poor future.” Furthermore, these killings forecast the future for all Nigerian Christians – not just in the northern and central belt states – no longer protected by majority power. If the government refuses to fulfill its primary duty, “then no one in Nigeria is safe.”
Another obstacle that inhibits governments from addressing this budding genocide is the narrative of denial. “It is just a clash between farmers and herdsmen” the Nigerian government and many Western foreign policy elites claim. But disturbing reports show violence increasing each day—days that Kwashi and Kukah endure without any help from the outside world.
“This is no ‘clash’ between farmers and herdsmen,” the retired Archbishop of Jos states. Fulani jihadists will mow down Christian villages and leave the neighboring Muslim villages alone. If the villagers survive the massacre, they are left to live in squalor, in fear of kidnappings and sexual trafficking, and receive little to no education.
Others in the international community deny genocide by arguing that this “is just a civil war.” And yet, Stanton shows, these excuses were the same exact narratives that masked the Rwanda genocide for far too long. Even if this were just a “clash” or a “civil war,” it would not excuse the slaughtering of children in their beds. Moore rightly concludes that “Causation is not an excuse for inaction.”
Finally, the extremists will not stop until their support system shrivels. Where is this support coming from? The Nigerian government seems to know, but still refuses to stop them. Even if Boko Haram told the truth about the extremists belonging to ISIS, this only ensures that large sums of money will flow to the extremists through the Middle East.
The experts contend, however, that foreign intruders capable of such heinous and wide-spread acts necessitate inside support. Based on the evidence—such as a jihadists’ phones containing multiple contacts within the Nigerian Army, large herds of suspiciously-acquired cattle sold to Nigerian government officials, and government officials’ hesitancy in convicting a Fulani kidnapper amidst heavy international pressure—all point to a government that supports genocide.
A government that refuses to convict jihadi extremists is also one that allows the murder of Pastor Emmanuel Bileya and his wife with their unborn child to remain unaddressed. Anyone could be responsible for their murders because no one is held responsible at all. And this, the bishops conclude, is the heart of the danger: murders like that of Emmanuel and his family are acceptable if the government refuses to punish crime.
Phone calls reporting killings like Emmanuel’s are part of the Archbishop’s weekly routine.
But we can help stop this, the experts argue, through a three-pronged solution:
First, Wolf contends that we appoint a special envoy of the caliber of former Senator John Danforth (the first Special Envoy for Sudan in 2001) to coordinate the internal US response to the Nigerian genocide and with that of other NATO countries. Standard foreign service policies are simply not aggressive enough to resolve ensuing genocide because they are based in conflict-resolution models—conflicts that terrorists have no interest in resolving. If “policy is persons,” then there must be someone inside the State Department to drive progress.
The second prong of the solution is a full-scale international investigation with the same reach as the Darfur report. There must be irrevocable proof for the international community that Nigeria is brewing genocide.
Although a crucial step, a report will not be enough. When the Darfur report revealed that more than 50,000 people had been murdered with the help of the Sudanese government, the UN was still not convinced of genocide. In addition, therefore, Stanton proposes that we lobby President Buhari and offer direct assistance through the Department of Homeland Security by training Nigerian investigators “which would cost us very little—no more than several million a year.”
Finally, Nigerian church leaders can use the power of their leadership and networks to act as human rights documentation centers where the evidence of killings is gathered.
American churches can likewise support the effort of churches in Nigeria by providing money and spreading awareness. Christians in Nigeria are blocked from media access, their stories left unreported. As Christians and as people of goodwill, we must raise our voices for the voiceless and preserve religious freedom. Stanton says that “the future of Christianity is in Africa,” but only if Christians survive the present.
If we want to aid the persecuted, protect our ally and international interests, and preserve the future of Christianity, it is our duty to vote wisely and advocate loudly. While the suffering of Nigerians compounds, time runs short and “as Nigeria goes, so goes Africa.”
Here is the video of the briefing: