A group of distinguished Nigerians who participated in the recent “2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom – Nigerian Crisis Eclipsed” hosted by the United States Government have petitioned the Donald Trump administration over alleged horrific “violations of the religious freedoms and persecution/mass killing of Christians in Nigeria” under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The letter, dated July 26, 2019, was addressed to Ambassador Tibor Nagy, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, US State Department, Washington DC. It is entitled “RE: THE 2019 MINISTERIAL TO ADVANCE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – NIGERIAN CRISIS ECLIPSED”.
The letter was signed by Emmanuel Emenyonu, Ph.D, President, Africa United for Peace; Rev Yunusa S. Nmadu Jnr, CEO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Nigeria & General Secretary Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA); Rev Esther Ibanga, Executive Director of Women Without Walls Initiative and Founder, Jos Christian Missions Int.; Barrister Emmanuel Ogebe,
US NIGERIA LAW GROUP; The Rev Polycarp Gbaja, CEO, Stride Leadership Foundation & Snr Pastor, The Strong House, Abuja; The Honorable Terwase Orbunde, Chief of Staff to the Governor of Benue State; Rev. Yakubu Bakfwash, Director, International Training and Research
Center for Nonviolence and Conflict Transformation (CNCT), USA; and Richard Ikiebe, a Lagos-based communications scholar.
The letter, a copy of which is in the possession of News Express , bemoaned “the lack of adequate attention to the horrendous and egregious violations of the religious freedoms and persecution/mass killing of Christians in Nigeria; and to (iii) underscore the urgency of the need for the international community led by the United States of America to intervene before the entire West African Sub-region is destabilized with global terror fissures.”
The letter reads in part: “The widespread persecution and mass killings of Christians in Nigeria is primarily driven by religious fanaticism, political oppression amidst other factors. The situation is fast degenerating and there are ominous signs that if the international community led by the United States does not intervene promptly to arrest the rise and spread of ISIS in West Africa and the militant Fulani Herdsmen, northern Nigeria might soon become another ungovernable space where terror and ethno-religious conflict can destabilize the entire West African Sub-region, Sahel and beyond.
“The 2019 Ministerial failed to capture the urgency about the dire situation in Nigeria, adjudged to be the deadliest place in the world for Christians. This is despite the clear evidence that Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram are a regional threat affecting Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad, Mali, Niger and the Sahel belt.
“It is disheartening that there were no victims / survivor presentations in the Ministerial to spotlight this regional crisis. In fact, during the Ministerial week alone, over 70 people were killed across Nigeria alone!!
“A researcher reported over 60,000 deaths but suspects the figure to be at least 80,000 in the northeast of Nigeria alone. Although this researcher and a church leader who lost 8,000 of his members during a 5-year period were physically present at the State Department for the 2019 Ministerial, they were merely on the sidelines!
“The non-recognition of Nigeria’s brewing ethno-religious meltdown is deeply concerning. It merits the full, deliberate and focused intervention of the Global Community.
“Eminent leaders, such as former Nigerian presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, have warned of this danger. Vice President Pence and even Nigerian Vice President Osinbajo have acknowledged the reality of persecution in Nigeria, as has the Pope and even the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. More humanitarian aid workers have been abducted and killed in Nigeria than anywhere else during the last year.
“Just yesterday, the world awoke to the latest proof of life video of six Nigeria aid workers abducted during the Ministerial. A Christian nutritionist Grace Taku announced the execution of Christians Alice Ngaddah (a nurse employed by UNICEF) and notably, 16-year old school-girl Leah Sharibu who has been held in captivity for over a year for refusing to deny her faith in exchange for freedom. All these illustrate the urgency of the Nigerian situation, which was not reflected in the Ministerial.
“In addition to bemoaning the lack of proper attention; we wish to emphasize the need for a balanced and accurate presentation of the situation on the continent. We acknowledge and appreciate the presence of Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan, and Helen Berhane from Eritrea, but respectfully note that South Africa, which was featured prominently , has no freedom of religion concerns, but does have a xenophobia problem, often targeting other Africans on the basis of their country of origin (not on the basis of faith).
“Similarly, while we commend the choice of Imam Abubakar Abdullahi for the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award for saving the lives of over 200 Christians, the gravity of the loss of over 200 Christians during last year’s June massacre in Nigeria was glossed over. It should have been highlighted to at the very least honor the memory of the innocent Christians slaughtered.
“Over the years, the West has been reluctant to acknowledge the targeted killing of Christians in vicious campaigns aimed at driving them from their ancestral lands. To leap from this reluctance to heralding an Imam for saving Christians while still not fully acknowledging the religious drivers of the violence is intellectually dubious. Also, focusing attention on the sole narrative of the good Muslim that came to the rescue of vulnerable Christians, shifts the focus away from the persecuted Nigerian Christians who are still being slaughtered by Muslim Herdsmen while the Nigerian government looks the other way. We are gratified by your remarks conceding that religion is an important factor in the crisis.
“Furthermore, we appreciate that Esther Bitrus, a Nigerian Christian survivor was selected to meet with President Donald J. Trump. We note though that the White House transcript of the meeting records her as mostly inaudible. The choice of a witness who could not communicate effectively did not do adequate justice to Nigeria – “the deadliest place on earth to be a Christian.”
“In conclusion, we urge the US State Department to take more seriously, the plight of Christians in Nigeria who are being killed and denied religious freedom. We request the US government to demand an investigation by the Nigerian authorities into the recent terror video to ascertain the fate of Leah Sharibu and Alice Ngaddah.
“We also wish to request that competent representatives of the Nigerian Christian community be given the opportunity during any follow up programs of the Ministerial to bring proper / factual accounts to the International community of the extreme persecution to which Nigerian Christians are subjected by both state and non-state actors.
“Finally, we look forward to a wider consultation for the 2020 Ministerial planning team in order to ensure that critical situations in Africa, such as that of Nigeria are highlighted and addressed.”