Terrorists continue to attack northern Nigeria, and Christians are in the crosshairs. During the evening hours of February 19, Boko Haram raided the Government Girls Science and Technical School in the rural community of Dapchi in Yobe state, kidnapping 110 young women.
Even though the Nigerian government declared victory over Boko Haram in late 2015, calling the group “technically defeated,” the nation is reeling once again from attacks like this latest one in Dapchi. It is reminiscent of the kidnapping of 276 women from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School by Boko Haram in 2014. In that incident, the world cried out on behalf of the missing girls. Even the White House joined the social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls. The outcome of that effort was mixed at best: more than 100 girls remain missing, presumably still in the clutches of Boko Haram terrorists. And now, more lives have been stolen in Dapchi.
The situation in Nigeria is complex and the solutions difficult. With a population of more than 190 million, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and one of its largest economies. Stability there means stability for the region. Except Nigeria is anything but stable. It is a country steeped in longstanding religious and ethnic violence, government control is weak, education is limited, poverty is extreme, and the country remains economically underdeveloped despite a rich cache of natural resources.
Although provisions in Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution protect freedom of religion and belief and prohibit religious discrimination at the federal level, 12 of the northern states have adopted the Sharia law into their criminal codes. These conditions have contributed to the rise of violent extremist groups like Boko Haram and the Fulani Militants.
Terrorism in Nigeria has a religious undertone. Boko Haram, for example, an avowed affiliate of ISIS, seeks to eradicate western education and bring Nigeria under an Islamic caliphate. The group targets Christian minorities (comprising about one-third of northern Nigeria) and moderate Muslim communities that do not hold to its extremist ideologies.
The persistent barrage by Boko Haram, coupled with a weak response by the Nigerian government, have been devastating: Tens of thousands killed and more than two million people displaced. Destruction at the hands of Boko Haram is causing famine-like conditions, putting one million hard-to-reach individuals at risk. The crisis in Nigeria has become an international problem, with violence spilling into neighboring countries and tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing to Europe.
The international community needs to take action to help stabilize Nigeria and prevent destabilization in neighboring countries and throughout Europe. The U.S. could lead that effort. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF), “Nigeria is the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in Africa; and the United States is the largest bilateral donor to Nigeria.” The U.S. could leverage its strategic resources to pressure the Nigerian government to take stronger action against Boko Haram and other extremist groups.
Likewise, the U.S. Department of State should designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), which would enable the U.S. to assist Nigeria with necessary reforms to respond more swiftly and decisively to cases of sectarian violence.
Stopping Boko Haram and fostering stability for Nigeria will take more than a hashtag campaign. If the international community does not lean in, there will be more Chibok and Dapchi girls — more lives stolen.
Elisabeth Doherty Office Director
1. Pray for the communities devastated by Boko Haram and for decisive government action that promotes civilian safety, develops good governance, and strengthens religious freedom within Nigeria
2. Visit Stand With Nigeria to learn more about what is taking place in Nigeria and how you can help
3. Contact your legislators at www.house.gov and ask them to make Nigeria a priority; likewise, contact the State Department and request that Nigeria be designated a CPC
(c) 2018 Wilberforce Initiative