YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading Nigerian criminologist and board chair of the Catholic inspired NGO, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) says the group could launch an international campaign urging American voters to vote out the Biden administration if it continues to turn a blind eye to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.

“The U.S. government must be compelled to take action, if not it should be voted out,” Emeka Umeagbalassi told Crux.

“It is likely that we might launch an international campaign urging American voters to vote out the Democratic Party if the Democratic Party continues to ignore, to aid, to abet the killings in Nigeria, because if Nigeria eventually explodes, the American government cannot contain the aftermath effects of the implosion and explosion in Nigeria,” he said.

His comments came in reaction to the continued push by some international non-state actors and some lawmakers in the United States for the government to take action and save Christians from being systematically exterminated in Nigeria.

The latest of such calls came from Save the Persecuted Christians – an international NGO – that not only works to “expose the hard-facts and causes of anti-Christian violence in a record number of countries worldwide,” but also to “save lives of suffering Christians…by providing strong incentives for bad actors to embrace peace, repent of their violent misdeeds, and look with kindness on their neighbors.”

In a March 25 statement titled “TAKE ACTION: Stop the genocide of Nigerian Christians by Islamists,” Save the Persecuted Christians urges the U.S. Congress “to vote in favor of House Resolution 82, to impose conditions on U.S. policy toward Nigeria, so that our brothers and sisters have a chance to live, and to do it with dignity.”

Nigeria has faced severe Christian persecution in recent years, with alarming numbers supporting this claim. In the previous year, Islamist extremists were responsible for the deaths of over 5,900 Christians, as reported by Open Doors.

However, Intersociety, which closely tracks such incidents, suggests the number exceeds 8,000 for 2023.

The African country has a population of over 230 million people, which is almost evenly divided between Christians – mainly in the south – and Muslims – mainly in the north. The religious population is more mixed in the middle of the country.

Violence against Christians is committed by various groups: Jihadist Fulani herdsmen and bandits, Boko Haram militants, “Islamic-inspired” security forces are the biggest perpetrators.

A report by Intersociety released on February 14, 2024, ranks Nigeria as the world’s second most lethal country for religious killings, with over 150,000 deaths motivated by religious bias since 2009. Of these, approximately 100,000 were Christians, about 46,000 were moderate Muslims, and the remaining 4,000 were from other faiths.

In addition, over 18,500 Christian worship sites, 1,000 religious shrines, and 2,500 educational institutions with Christian or traditional affiliations were burned down. Native Christians and non-Muslims were also forcibly removed from their homes and lost ownership of nearly 37,000 square miles of land.

Save the Persecuted Christians says that Catholic priests, evangelical pastors, and Methodist bishops are especially targeted for kidnapping by Fulani and other unidentified gunmen, typically shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they attack their victims.

Since early 2022, 100 Nigerian Catholic priests have been abducted and not yet freed, 20 of whom were murdered, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

Despite these statistics, the U.S. government has refused to reinstate Nigeria in the category of Countries of Particular Concern, but in the words of Save the Persecuted Christians “transferred taxpayers’ money to the Nigerian government with grants for social development, weapons sales, and the corresponding extension of credits to a terror-supporting regime.”

The NGO suggests that the U.S. is hesitant to address certain issues – including persecution of Christians – with Nigeria because of a concern that China might take control of Nigeria’s valuable assets, including oil, renewable sources, and precious metals.

“The International Religious Freedom Act mandates frank assessments in the face of such grave religious freedom violations. The Secretary of State should acknowledge that Nigeria has “engaged in or tolerated” severe religious freedom violations, the statutory criteria warranting CPC designation. This is particularly important since the United States is a major partner of Nigeria, having given it over $1 billion in foreign aid in the 2022 fiscal year alone,” the NGO says in its March 25 statement.

“We are happy that what is happening in Nigeria is beginning to draw international attention. It is beginning to be taken up by a lot of international non-state actors trying to get international state actors and inter-governmental state actors to take action,” Umeagbalassi told Crux.

He said his organization will continue to provide the needed and reliable and actionable data.

Umeagbalassi said it was incumbent on the US to act because “the U.S. government is claimed to be the world’s police, the world’s epicenter of democracy, of religious freedom, or humanitarianism, civil liberties etc.”

“Yet, the government of the day has corruptly and immorally refused to act. The presidential election in the United States is coming up later this year and when we continue to push and we appeal to other international non-state actors to continue to mount pressure on international state actors and international inter-governmental actors to do the needful on the situation of Christians in Nigeria,” he said.

False narratives

Even as pressure is being mounted on the U.S. and other developed nations to act, there are what Umeagbalassi calls “false narratives” that he suggests are designed to divert attention from the issues on the ground.

“Some individuals are coming up with narratives to the effect that what is going on has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, that it has to do with the struggle for mineral resources,” he said.

“These are just attempts to divert the attention of the international community and also to be economical with the truth,” Umeagbalassi told Crux.

On March 14, Crux reported that there was a link between resources and war, and that the perception that the conflicts in the DRC, Mozambique and Nigeria were religiously and ethnically based could belie the insidious connection between mining and war.

That report was based on findings by the Denis Hurley Peace Institute of the Southern African Bishops Conference.

Umeagbalassi said such narratives detract from what he calls the purely religious basis for the ongoing violence in Nigeria.

“If jihadists have been displacing Christians, taking over their properties, taking over their lands, burning down their houses and sacred places of worship and after which some people – maybe those people who carried out the violence-contacted multinational companies to go and takeover the land, then, there should be an investigation to establish how that company came into that land,” he told Crux.

“Who did they pay? Who brought them? How much did they pay? Who did they pay the money to? Were they contacted by the same jihadists? Or were they brought in by the government? So a thorough investigation must be made to review the status of that multinational company and if it is found wanting, under the UN system, the multinational company can also be charged as part of those sponsoring or aiding the violence against Christians,” Umeagbalassi said.