NEW YORK — Meeting embattled Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday, President Donald Trump made a special plea for Christians facing persecution in Africa’s most populous country.
“We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump told Buhari at a White House press conference. “We’re going to be working on that problem and working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen.”
Buhari acknowledged that security was an ongoing concern for the country, but lauded the support of the United States in confronting the Islamic terrorist group ISIS.
According to a report issued last week by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, Nigeria is now listed as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). Such a designation indicates “systemic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations.
Earlier this month, 19 people, including two Catholic priests, were killed when a gunman attacked a Catholic church in Ayar-Mbalom during an early morning Mass.
While the north of the country has a majority Muslim population, Christianity is the dominant religion in the south.
In the upper and middle regions of the country, Christians often suffer persecution from radical Islamic groups such as Boko Haram and the Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
According to Open Doors, an anti-Christian persecution monitoring group, there is evidence suggesting that the Fulani herdsman have specifically singled out Christian minorities in their recent attacks.
The Catholic bishops of Kaduna have previously denounced this targeting, saying “There is a hidden agenda targeted at the Christian majority of southern Kaduna.”
“This jihad is well-funded, well-planned, and executed by agents of destabilization,” they added.
An estimated 10 percent of the nation’s 85 million Christians are believed to be Catholic. In 2016, Open Doors labeled Nigeria as the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, where more than 2 million Christians were forced to flee their homes out of fear of being targeted by Boko Haram.
In response to the April 24 attacks, Nigeria’s Catholic bishops called on Buhari to resign and defended the right of citizens to take up arms through legal means to protect themselves.