". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Why Is the U.S. Turning a Blind Eye to Nigeria’s Genocide?

May 1, 2024

The vibrant Nigerian nation enjoys not only the largest African population, but also the most powerful economy on the entire continent. Nigeria’s oil sector is responsible for much of the country’s success, making it wealthier than all other West African nations and thus holding considerable power. Even Nigeria’s historic art culture is acclaimed by some European experts, while its music scene is also applauded by many. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, however prominent its art and wealth may be, Nigeria is also responsible for the most violent persecution of Christians in all of Africa. And, tragically, the brutal violence against those endangered believers continues to escalate. Ferocious attacks by radical Islamists continues to rip apart the nation’s vulnerable Christian population.

The United States sees itself as a reputable watchdog, calling out religious freedom violators when it is so inclined. But, as Alliance Defending Freedom recently reported, “when the U.S. State Department released its annual religious freedom watchlist earlier this year, it did not mention Nigeria’s horrific record of Christian killings.”

In fact, the U.S. government has totally ignored the bloodshed of both Catholic and Protestant believers in Nigeria for at least three consecutive years.

At the same time, according to a February report published in the Catholic Herald, “The combined forces of the government-protected Islamic Jihadists, and the country’s Security Forces are directly and vicariously accountable for hacking to death in 2023 of no fewer than 8,222 defenseless Christians — covering a period of thirteen months [from] Jan (2023) — Jan (2024).”

Kidnappings, murders, and forced disappearances, largely affecting Christian victims, continue to take place in several Nigerian regions. Crux Now reported in February 2024 that the carnage of Christians has been carried out by a broad range of actors, including Fulani jihadist herdsmen, who are said to have been responsible for at least 5,100 Christian deaths. Boko Haram and their allies killed some 500 believers and Fulani bandits 1,600. Meanwhile, “Islamist inspired” security forces robbed some other 1,000 Christians of their lives.

The attacks from January 2023 into 2024 against Nigerian Christians were reportedly the “deadliest in recent years.” Sadly, the country’s security forces failed to defend its vulnerable Christian population from violent deaths. In fact, some Nigerians have expressed concerns that some of the government’s “protectors of the people” may at times have been complicit in the anti-Christian attacks.

The watchdog organization Genocide Watch has reported “Since 2000, 62,000 Christians in Nigeria have been murdered in genocide perpetrated by Islamist jihadist groups including Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Fulani militias. The International Committee for Nigeria refers to this genocide as the ‘Silent Slaughter.’” Although 2023 saw President Bola Ahmed Tinubu replace his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari, there has been no observable change in the plight of Christians. Neither president has expressed concern or provided even minimal protection that could have saved Christian lives.

For those of us who have an interest in international religious freedom, there was enthusiastic applause when, for the first time in December 2020, the U.S. Department of State — under the leadership of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). And, in fact, it was a timely move because the BBC reported a surge in attacks on Christian churches and believers in 2021.

However, without explanation, this vital designation was abruptly removed almost immediately after the inauguration of Joe Biden in November 2021. And the de-listing of Nigeria’s CPC designation has proved to be to an outrageous betrayal of an already brutalized Christian community.

In January 2024, Open Doors reported that 90% of the more than 5,600 Christians killed for their faith during the previous year were from Nigeria. Previously, Aid to the Church in Need noted that more than 7,600 Nigerian Christians were killed between January 2021 and June 2022.

In February 2024, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted for a House resolution calling for greater U.S. action in Nigeria, due to the religious freedom crisis there. The House resolution, which can be read in full here, calls on the U.S. secretary of State to designate Nigeria as a CPC on their list of worst religious freedom offenders.

Why did the U.S. House specifically call for greater American action with regard to Nigeria? For one reason at least: In January 2024, the U.S. State Department released its annual religious freedom Watch List — and it left Nigeria off the list for the third consecutive year.

Meanwhile, year by year, more Christians are killed in Nigeria for their faith than everywhere else in the world combined. With that in mind, one specific question deserves a clear answer: Why has the U.S. government continued to turn a blind eye to Nigeria’s ongoing religious genocide?

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."