Christian faith, the West African terrorist group made sure to post a
grisly video of the execution to sow fear and to trumpet its war on
Westerners were shocked by similar execution videos – featuring the
beheadings of “infidels” ranging from Western journalists to Christians
and Shiite Muslims – posted by the Islamic State as it rose up over a
half-decade ago. But the horrifying tactics employed by Islamist
terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram have faded recently from the
Yet Nigerian Christians and their advocates in the United States,
including religious freedom organizations and members of Congress, say
Boko Haram’s beheading of Pastor Lawan Andimi in January was just one
terrible moment in a spreading and intensifying war on Christians in
Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.
“The violence against Nigeria’s Christians is increasing and it is
intensifying. The forces behind this horrific violence are uniting to
raise the flag of the caliphate as they kill, sack villages, and burn
churches,” says Stephen Enada, a Nigerian Baptist minister who is also a
co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON).
“Every day it is mothers and babies, farmers and pastors, who are losing
their lives and being displaced, and mostly it goes unnoticed by the
world,” he adds. But “unless this destabilizing violence is addressed by
the international community, it will have grave consequences for
Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world.”
In an effort to rouse the world to attention, Mr. Enada’s ICON joined
with other religious-freedom and human rights organizations last week to
launch a “SilentSlaughterNigeria” campaign focused on Nigeria’s besieged
Avoiding a genocide
The new campaign – which earned Mr. Enada and an entourage of
high-profile U.S. religious-freedom advocates a few minutes Wednesday
with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian – has both
a policy objective it aims to reach and hopes of helping the world avoid
another stain on the global conscience.
One point to the “Silent Slaughter” campaign is to raise U.S. and global
awareness about Nigeria in the same way the “Save Darfur” campaign
successfully focused world attention on Sudan’s ethnic-cleansing and war
on the non-Arab population (including Christians) in Darfur. That
conflict would ultimately be declared a genocide.
Some human rights and religious freedom organizations are ready to
declare the killings in Nigeria a genocide. Over the last five years an
estimated 7,000 Nigerian Christians have been murdered in a country
where just under half of the population of 200 million is Christian.
Christians are not the only or even the primary victims of the Islamist
extremists’ war in northeast Nigeria. Over the decade that Boko Haram
has terrorized the region, more than 50,000 Nigerians, mostly Muslims
refusing the terror group’s version of their faith, have been murdered,
with more than 2 million displaced. Still, as in the case of Darfur, it
is primarily the killings of Christians that is raising alarms in
Experts say the pace of killings of Christians has increased, with more
than 350 dying in violence so far this year – primarily in the country’s
northeast. There Boko Haram, a nascent branch of ISIS, and indigenous
Fulani militants are uniting in their common cause of ridding Nigeria’s
north and “Middle Belt” of “infidel” Christians.
What Mr. Enada and other advocates of Nigeria’s Christians say they want
to help the world avoid is another genocide on the order of what
occurred with little global response in Rwanda in 1994. Over a period of
just 100 days, more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were slaughtered at the
hands of the country’s majority Hutus.
Bill Clinton says failing to stop the Rwanda genocide remains the
biggest regret of his presidency.
Waning U.S. interest in Africa?
Still, even some experts who acknowledge an uptick in recent attacks on
Christians caution that the violence in northeast Nigeria should not be
seen as uniquely focused on Christians or as a monolithic campaign to
cleanse the region of its Christian population.
“My impression us that everything the Christians are facing is happening
in a context of a lot of violence that is not particularly targeted at
Christians,” says Emily Estelle, research manager at the American
Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project.
“Christians are certainly not the sole focus of [these groups] operating
in West Africa,” she adds, “but they can get caught up in the efforts of
one group to differentiate itself from another.” She notes, for example,
that for a time ISIS West Africa sought to differentiate itself from
Boko Haram, which was primarily targeting Muslim communities that
refused its ideology, by “targeting Christian populations rather than
The “SilentSlaughter” campaign might seem to face difficult odds, as it
comes at a moment of rising global fatigue over humanitarian crises
ranging from Syria’s horrific civil war to worldwide refugee numbers not
seen since World War II.
Moreover, the U.S. shows signs of losing interest in Africa, with the
Trump administration mulling a drawdown of the counterterrorism forces
it maintains in Africa in favor of beefing up forces in Asia as part of
the administration’s strategy for confronting China in the Indo-Pacific
On the other hand, advocates for Nigeria’s Christians say they hope to
tap into the Trump administration’s interest in religious-freedom issues
and the high placement in the administration of a number of evangelical
Christians – from Secretary Pompeo to Vice President Mike Pence – to get
action on Nigeria’s struggle with extremism.
“We have in the administration of President Donald Trump an
administration that is unparalleled in its commitment to religious
freedom,” says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a
Washington-based fundamentalist policy advocacy group.
“I’m encouraged to see the Trump administration has designated Nigeria a
country of particular concern,” he adds. But he lists the accelerating
violence, the weekly torching of churches, and the rising displacement
of Christian families, and says more must be done.
“This crisis has the potential to affect the entire African continent
and Europe,” particularly if the flow of refugees out of Nigeria
accelerates, Mr. Perkins says. “We don’t want to look back a decade from
now and regret that we allowed another Rwanda.”
“Message to the world”
One thing advocates for Nigeria’s Christians are pushing for is
designation of a White House special envoy to focus on the issue –
someone whose job it would be to press the Nigerian government for a
coordinated effort to stem the violence and to drum up international
support for action.
“I look back at when President [George W.] Bush appointed John Danforth
his special envoy on Darfur, he did it from the Rose Garden with
Secretary [of State Colin] Powell at his side,” says Frank Wolf, a
former member of Congress from Virginia who focused on religious freedom
and human rights issues over his time in office.
“That sent a message to the world” about the priority the American
president put on the issue, adds Mr. Wolf, who remains active in human
rights issues in retirement. “Right now the world is relatively silent
on this crisis, but I think a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake
Chad region would do a lot to put it on the world’s agenda.”
ICON’s president Mr. Enada says Americans who might remember the black
flag of the ISIS caliphate rising over parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014
should know that already that same flag flies over more than a dozen
municipalities in northeast Nigeria.
“That flag represents terrible things for the Christians who used to
live there,” he says. “But it should also be a warning to people outside
of Nigeria who could be affected by these groups establishing a base
from which they operate.”
Christian Science Monitor