Nigerian Christians terrorized by the Islamist group Boko Haram and insurgent, militant herdsmen implored U.S. President Donald Trump last week to intervene in their increasingly forgotten crisis.
Boko Haram’s violence in northeastern Nigeria has killed tens of thousands of people. The insurgency has withered down to sporadic attacks, but hundreds of people remain in captivity, including about 110 girls kidnapped in 2014 from Chibok, and Leah Sharibu, a Christian schoolgirl taken in 2018 and remains in captivity because of her faith.
During a panel discussion at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation last week, Sharibu’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, called for assistance. “Please help me and bring my daughter back,” she said, breaking into tears. “I need my daughter.” Leah Sharibu, now 16, was kidnapped in February 2018 from her boarding school in the northeastern town of Dapchi along with her schoolmates. The insurgents released the other captives but kept Sharibu when she refused to renounce her faith.
Gloria Puldu, the Sharibu family’s friend and interpreter, explained the family hasn’t received any updates from the government since October, when President Muhammadu Buhari promised in a phone conversation to secure Sharibu’s safe release.
Former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who authored the International Religious Freedom Act, said Boko Haram is guilty of genocide and urged Western churches and politicians to intervene in Leah’s case.
“In the Bible, Peter denies Christ three times,” he said. “This is a 14-year-old girl who would not deny Christ.”
Across central Nigeria, armed herdsmen have also continued to target Christian farming communities.
The unrest goes beyond regular clashes between herders and farmers, said Napolean Adamu from the Agatu area of Benue state. He explained the herdsmen now come in large numbers armed with AK-47s, unlike the nomadic herders who only carried long sticks and roamed with their wives and children.
From February to April, herdsmen attacks on the mostly Christian Adara community in northwestern Kaduna state killed at least 400 people and displaced about 13,000 others.
“We have 2-month-old babies, 6-month-old babies, babies in the bellies torn from their mothers wombs and slaughtered like animals,” said Alheri Bawa Magaji, the daughter of a local leader.
Magaji’s father assumed leadership of the Adara community after the former chief was kidnapped and killed in October 2018. Despite the ongoing attacks, authorities detained nine elders of the community, including Magaji’s father, for 103 days and accused them of striking back in reprisal, leaving 66 Fulani herders dead. The local emergency agency later disputed the government’s claim.
In December 2018, the Kaduna state government abolished the leadership and divided the predominantly Christian community under two Islamic emirates. “For a governor to make that kind of law in the first place without the people of the land knowing about it is illegal and unjust,” Magaji said, calling the incessant attacks a genocide.
Herdsmen had earlier kidnapped Mercy Maisamari, whose father was among the detained elders, and her mother for 11 days. They beat up her father when he came to deliver their ransom. She said it’s a near-daily experience in the community.
“Some of them would ask us, ‘Where is your Jesus? Call your Jesus to come and save you,’” Maisamari said at The Heritage Foundation event while holding back tears.
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, said the United States has so far addressed the Nigerian crisis only through the policies of the Office of International Religious Freedom. The United States has the economic and military capacity to pressure the Nigerian government to protect all of its citizens, she said.
“It’s good this group is here,” Shea said of the Nigerians who shared their experiences. “It’s very important in the process of trying to elevate Nigeria in the U.S. policy.”