Send Special Envoy to Protect Nigerian Christians, Says Former Congressman

Catholic church, in the city of Akure, the largest city in Ondo State, Nigeria. Via Shutterstock

The United States should send a special envoy to Nigeria to help coordinate the protection of the Christian population and prevent further destabilization in the area, said former Rep. Frank Wolf on Thursday, June 25.

Wolf was speaking during a press briefing on the ongoing violence facing Christians in the country, which was hosted by the organization In Defense of Christians. The former congressman served 17 terms representing Virgina’s 10th congressional district and has worked extensively on issues of human rights, genocide, and religious freedom.

“An implosion of Nigeria will destabilize the surrounding countries,” said Wolf. He described the Nigerian people as “crying out for help,” and said that the “current policy and actions of the American embassy in Nigeria have failed” to protect vulnerable groups.

Islamic extremists, Wolf said, have killed more people in Nigeria than ISIS did in the Middle East, yet there is far less attention on the plight of Nigerian Christians. 

A special envoy in the Lake Chad region, which is located in northeastern Nigeria, would serve as a way to “coordinate the response to the crisis,” and work with allies to better protect the people of the region. 

Bishop Matthew H. Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto was also a panelist at the briefing. He said that the situation in Nigeria stems from a culture that has devalued Christianity and no longer cares about faith. 

As the geopolitical and economic landscapes have shifted, the bishop said, space has been made for the growth of militant extremist groups. 

“This is the vacuum that [extremists] are exploiting--mainly, a west that is in retreat, as far as Christianity and Christian values are concerned, a west in which diplomats and businesspeople are far from being interested in matters of faith, especially when it comes to Christianity,” said Kukah. 

The Nigerian government has given “quite a lot of oxygen to Islamic extremists by the nature of [...] the political appointments that have been made,” said Kukah, in what he called a “blatant show of nepotism and favoritism. “

In Nigeria, for the first time in the country’s history, Kukah explained, the president and all security chiefs are Muslim, and suggested this could contribute to the lack of direct action against the growing religious violence. “We get a feeling that if you lift the veil, you can understand,” he said.  

Kukah rejected the idea that the extremist groups are imported to Nigeria from outside of the country and therefore are beyond the control of the government. 

“If they are coming from outside, how do we as Christians explain when the Minister for Internal Affairs is a Muslim? When the Director General of Customs is a Muslim? When the Director General of Immigration is a Muslim,” he asked. 

“Somebody must be aware of what is going on,” said Kukah. 

In Nigeria, Kukah said, the Christian population is further impeded by what he called an “almost total media absence.” There is no Christian radio station or media house, he said, meaning that it is hard for Christians to share their stories. 

In February, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that Nigeria was one of the countries of highest concern when it came to violations of religious freedom. 

Brownback said he is concerned the situation in Nigeria will spread to nearby countries if nothing is done to crack down on religious persecution. 

“There's a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.” 

Brownback expressed frustration that the Nigerian government was not doing enough to protect religious groups. 

“I think we’ve got to prod the [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari government more. They can do more,” he said. “They’re not bringing these people to justice that are killing religious adherents. They don’t seem to have the sense of urgency to act.”

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