by Luke Isbell
June 17, 2019
I attended an event at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, June 11, where Nigerian witnesses spoke about their first-hand experiences with Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. You can watch the full hearing here.
I was sitting about ten feet away from witness Rebecca Sharibu as she walked to the podium. Boko Haram, a radical jihadist organization in northern Nigeria, kidnapped Rebecca Sharibu’s daughter over a year and a half ago, and she was never returned. Rebecca could barely start before becoming overwhelmed with tears. The room fell silent as the mother struggled to make a simple plea, “Help me bring my daughter back. I need my daughter.”
Rebecca’s daughter, Leah Sharibu, was 14 years old when she and 110 of her classmates were kidnapped from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in February of last year. Two months after they were kidnapped, 110 of the girls returned to their families. Yet, because Leah is a Christian and refused to convert to Islam, Boko Haram singled her out to be kept as a slave.
Boko Haram’s stated goal is to eradicate Christianity, and the militant group has killed tens of thousands of Christians and civilians since 2009. Frank Wolf, author of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act, stated that more people have died at the hands of Boko Haram than ISIS. “Boko Haram is guilty of genocide,” Wolf forcefully insisted.
But Boko Haram is no longer the only terrorist threat to Christians in Nigeria. Semi-nomadic Islamic herdsman known as the Fulani armed with AK-47s frequently attack communities, burn homes, and inhumanly maim their victims. Mercy Maisamari, a witness at the event, described how Fulani would mock their Christian victims and taunt, “Call your Jesus to come and save you.”
“Another thing [the Fulani] do is to cut limbs and they cut open pregnant women and remove the babies and cut them. And they try their best for the woman not to die,” she said.
The words of Alheri Magaji rattled in my ears as I listened to the horrors she relayed to the audience. She recounted the story of a mother of four children who was nine months pregnant. In the middle of the night, 400 Fulani militants rushed her village, and some of the men entered her home. In front of her eyes, they executed three of her children. They repeatedly kicked her stomach. When she awoke in a hospital, she was told that her unborn child had not survived.
“Nobody will take our story,” Magaji said. “We paid people, no one will take our story…so we’re here to beg you—to beg the U.S. government to take our story.”
The five Nigerian witnesses described how the world is incorrectly framing the ongoing genocide in their country. To Western governments, the Fulani attacks are simple ethnic struggles “between farmers and herdsman.” And Boko Haram only terrorizes Nigeria and other small African countries—why should the world leaders and Christians around the globe care?
Here are three reasons:
1. Praying and advocating for persecuted believers is not optional for Christians.
The body of Christ is wounded, and that affects all Christians. Our fight is against spiritual forces, and we must band together to protect the church wherever it is attacked—otherwise we compromise the present ground we stand on. It’s a simple remedy: speak boldly at church about those who are persecuted, tell your friends, and pray with your family. God’s heart breaks for His children—let ours break also.
2. The United States plays a key role in promoting religious liberty across the globe, so our stance on foreign policy is critical.
The United States advocates for religious freedom around the globe, but there is a desperate need for more advocates speaking on behalf of the voiceless. Whether with the Uyghurs in China, the violence in India, or the persecuted in Nigeria, people of all faiths across the world live under dire circumstances. While praying for the present and long term, let us respond vocally and through voting—sending the message that Christians require their political leaders to support religious liberty.
3. Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria are genocide, and world’s governments are turning a blind eye.
Boko Haram actively kills, tortures, destroys villages, and kidnaps Christians in Nigeria with the intention of wiping out the Christians in Nigeria. This meets the definition of genocide established in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“We have a museum not very far from here saying never again,” said Frank Wolf, referring to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Yet, genocide is taking place in Nigeria. Tens of thousands have already perished because of Boko Haram’s systematic strategy to eliminate Christians.
Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi closed the event with one final plea:
“I can’t find any other country that will stand up for justice. That will stand up for the way you have always stood up for the oppressed. Please, please don’t disappoint the people of Nigeria. Please don’t disappoint the people of West Africa. Please don’t disappoint the people of Africa. And, please—don’t disappoint yourselves.”
Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.