Activists press Trump administration to aid embattled Nigerian Christians

International activists are sounding the alarm over what they say is the pervasive persecution of Christians in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, pressing the Trump administration Wednesday at a Washington press briefing to appoint a special presidential envoy to address the problem.

The International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) launched a campaign Wednesday titled the “Silent Slaughter” to raise awareness about the estimated more than 60,000 Nigerians who have died as a result of religious conflicts since 2001. Already this year, ICON reports more than 400 Nigerians were killed because of their Christian faith, with thousands more displaced.

Nigeria’s nearly 191 million people are almost exactly divided between Christian and Muslims, and tensions between the two faiths have a long history. Last month, protesters staged massive marches in cities across the country to protest the beheading of a Christian pastor by Islamist militants and to denounce what they said was the failure of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to halt abductions and assassinations.

The religious NGO Christian Solidarity International in late January posted a “genocide warning” for Nigeria, imploring the government to protect the nation’s Christians.

“The conditions for genocide exist in Nigeria,” Dr. John Eibner, chairman of CSI’s International Management, said at the time, “with Christians, non-violent Muslims, and adherents of tribal religions being particularly vulnerable. The increasingly violent attacks and the failure of the Nigerian government to prevent them and punish the perpetrators are alarming.”

Religious activists said Wednesday the plight of Nigeria’s Christians is part of a much more global trend.

“Religious freedom is under attack all over the world,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said at a press conference Wednesday. “It’s become a pandemic.”

Mr. Perkins added, “We must be paying attention to what is happening in Nigeria. It has the potential to affect the entire African continent and Europe.”

Islamic extremist groups Boko Haram and Fulani militants based in Nigeria are blamed for much of the violence targeting Christian communities. Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders, said the situation in Nigeria has the potential to develop into a refugee crisis of massive proportions.

Rev. Moore said the situation in Nigeria is a “five-alarm fire,” saying that the minimum estimate of displaced Nigerians right now is 300,000.

“A destabilized, crisis-laden Nigeria will have negative impacts for the whole region, aside from business and other security interests, the whole stability of that part of western Africa could be in peril if this issue isn’t addressed,” Rev. Moore said at the press conference. “This is one of the most consequential issues in our world.”

ICON activists are hoping the “Silent Slaughter” awareness campaign will draw the attention of the Trump administration and prompt the White House to name a special envoy to the ailing West African nation.

Because of its size and regional influence, Nigeria has emerged as a critical U.S. ally in the fight against growing radical extremism in the region. Activists say U.S. officials are thus not getting an accurate picture of what is going on inside the country.

“We can’t get pulled into this distracting discussion that allows all kinds of people to choose not to do something that they could do right now,” Rev. Moore said. ” … What is happening there cannot be taken in isolation, and the suffering people there have for way too long suffered in silence.”

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