Speakers Say US Must Have Stake in Nigerian Peace at Capitol Hill Briefing

The United States has a responsibility to act to curtail extremist violence in Nigeria, religious freedom and human rights advocates from both countries said in a Capitol Hill briefing.

The June 5 event, sponsored by International Christian Concern (ICC), focused on a West African country that is by far the largest population-wise on the continent and is plagued by religious- and ethnic-based violence especially from Islamic forces. Among the 25 most populous countries in the world, Nigeria has the highest level of social hostilities, according to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center. Nigeria ranks behind only Iraq and Afghanistan on the 2017 Global Terrorism Index produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

ICC’s Capitol Hill Policy Day followed by a week the release of the State Department’s annual report on global religious liberty. Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said in a May 29 news briefing significant progress has been made, “but for far too many, the state of religious freedom is dire. We have to work together to accomplish change.”

The world and the United States have a “moral obligation” regarding Nigeria, but it is also in their self-interest to alleviate the conflict, said Frank Wolf, a longtime advocate for international religious freedom as a congressman and now a distinguished senior fellow with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. “This is doable. This is the moment. There is the interest.

“I think this issue can be solved as long as we’re not dictating to Nigeria” what it must do, Wolf said.

Terwase Obunde, chief of staff to the governor of the Nigerian state of Benue, told the audience, “The U.S. must do all in its power not to allow Nigeria to slide into a state of anarchy. … By all means, Nigeria must not be allowed to fall into the hands” of democracy’s enemies.

Nathan Wineinger, the Wilberforce Initiative’s director of policy and coalitions, said, “U.S. citizens are the most powerful individuals in the world.” Americans “have a powerful opportunity” to support the rights of Nigerians and should act to prevent the Nigerian government from continuing to remain silent and ineffective, he said.

Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist organization, has gained most of the notoriety for its kidnapping of girls, destruction of church buildings and murderous attacks on villages in northeastern Nigeria, but Fulani extremists — also Muslims — have carried out violence in the Middle Belt, the country’s central region that stretches from the eastern to western border.

In April 2014, Boko Haram burned, looted or vandalized more than 700 church buildings and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, Obunde said. In the same month, the militants kidnapped nearly 280 girls from Chibok, more than 100 who have yet to be returned to their families. The terrorist group also captured more than 100 girls in February of this year. Although nearly all have been returned, one Christian girl — Leah Sharibu — remains in captivity because she refused to convert to Islam.

Fulani militant attacks in May resulted in more than 150 deaths, including the May 5 killings of 71 people in a village in the state of Kaduna, according to ICC. The Fulani attacks “demonstrate either incompetence, neglect or a degree of complicity on the part of the Nigerian military,” which has seldom stopped such violence, ICC said.

Christian communities have been the primary targets of Boko Haram and the Fulani, but other religious and ethnic groups also have suffered at their hands, ICC reported. The Middle Belt conflict — which involves Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers — is “extremely complicated,” Wineinger said. It has resulted in the deaths of Fulani people as well. Wineinger also told participants there is “mounting evidence” the Islamic State and other terrorists are moving into Nigeria and other African countries.

ICC has called on the Nigerian government to: (1) Reclaim the land taken by Fulani extremists and restore it to its rightful owners; (2) rebuild the destroyed villages; and (3) protect Nigerians from violent attacks in the future.

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Source: Baptist Press