Just recently, we commemorated the fifth anniversary of the deaths of the 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya. These brave men refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, even unto death. The world looked on in horror as the hooded Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists recorded their crime against humanity in a scarring message to the “nation of the cross.” The incident validated that the genocide ISIS was committing against Christians was not limited to Iraq and Syria.
Boko Haram has killed more than 27,000 civilians in Nigeria. This is greater than the amount of civilians ISIS killed in Iraq and Syria combined.
The Global Terrorism Index states that Nigeria is the third most dangerous country after Afghanistan and Iraq. Open Doors estimates that more than 7,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed because of their faith over the last three years. The international mission to persecuted Christians estimates that 1,350 Christians were killed by Islamic militant groups in 2019. The Christian Association of Nigeria reports that 900 churches in northern Nigeria have been destroyed in their campaign.
Greg Stanton of Genocide Watch states that Boko Haram is committing a genocide against Christians and crimes against humanity against the wider population. In central Nigeria, Fulani militants are also committing ethnic cleansing and genocidal massacres against Christians. Stanton says that what is mistaken as a conflict between herders and farmers is actually “a genocidal war between ethnic groups that previously co-existed, ignited by Islamic extremists with modern weapons.”
In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Christian schoolgirls, and people around the world took part in the #bringbackourgirls campaign. Although the hashtag is no longer trending, more than 100 of those girls remain missing, and the world has all but forgotten.
Two years ago, Boko Haram kidnapped more than100 girls and released all but one: Leah Sharibu.
Why have they kept Leah in captivity?
Leah, who is a Christian, was the only girl who refused to renounce her faith. She is now being held by the group as a “slave for life.” The situation on the ground has continued to worsen since her initial kidnapping.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) notes the group has killed those, including religious leaders, it considers to be “nonbelievers.” USCIRF notes they have committed civilian abductions, forced marriages, forced conversions, sexual abuse and torture. Furthermore, they have begun using women and children to commit suicide attacks. In addition to committing a genocide against Christians, they are also terrorizing Nigeria’s Muslim community. Boko Haram is believed to have committed twin suicide bombings at a mosque and market in the city of Mubi, which resulted in 27 deaths.
The Christian community is struggling to respond to this genocide. Open Doors, which ranks Nigeria as the 12th highest country of Christian persecution in the world, reports that Christians “who see their mothers and sisters raped and their fathers and brothers killed” would be unwise to fight back because Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen militias are not street gangs: They possess military-grade weaponry.
How have these groups come to obtain military-grade weaponry?
Strong evidence suggests that foreign powers have smuggled arms to these groups. A leaked recording in 2014 indicates that Turkey has previously used Turkish Airlines for weapons smuggling to Nigeria.
The Nigerian government must take action to ensure that it closes all smuggling routes and channels between foreign suppliers of weapons and the terrorist organizations and militias that operate within its borders.
These groups are not only armed; they have been committing increasingly disturbing attacks against Christians in recent months.
Shortly after Christmas, Boko Haram executed 11 Nigerian Christians, one of whom was shot and 10 of whom were beheaded, who had originally been kidnapped in Borno State.
On Jan. 8, Aid to the Church in Need announced the murder of a Catholic seminarian who had been kidnapped from Kaduna State. Also in January, the Islamic State’s official propaganda channel released a video of a child soldier, approximately 8 years old, executing Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a Christian college student. That same month also witnessed the martyrdom of evangelical Protestant minister Lawan Andimi, whose preaching of the Gospel in his own hostage video went viral.
The Register, to its credit, has called on the Nigerian government to take action. As the editors highlighted, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto has charged that the government has “created the conditions to make it possible for Boko Haram to behave the way they are behaving.”
Bishop Kukah is right. President Muhammed Buhari has been, at the very least, complicit in this genocide, and the international community must pressure him to either enact serious reforms to Nigeria’s security apparatus or resign.
He recently told Crux that that while the Nigerian population is almost evenly divided amongst Christians and Muslims, all of the federal security chiefs, including the office of national security adviser and the minister of defense, are Muslims.
On a similar note, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, told Catholic News Agency that there is a “lack of significant prosecution” of the Fulani herdsmen who attack Christians, especially in Nigeria’s north. He echoes Bishop Kukah by noting that almost all of the president’s advisers are from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group and are Muslims.
David Curry of Open Doors has warned the crimes Boko Haram and Funali militias are committing against Christians qualify as genocide because “[Y]ou have a group of people who are saying they’re going to eliminate Christians in the North; they’re largely pushing people out and or killing them.” He added that genocide is “rarely [called] genocide until it’s too late.”
Today, we are calling this genocide. We are also calling on the government of Nigeria, the government of the United States and the international community to do the same and take immediate action to stop it.
Frank Wolf is a former member of Congress from Virginia and the author of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. He now focuses exclusively on human rights and international religious freedom.
Toufic Baaklini is the president and chairman of the board of directors for In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy organization for Christians in Africa and the Middle East.