Welcome to the first issue of Religious Freedom and Global Security News, a project of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON).

COVID-19 has stopped the world in its tracks – and yet, religious persecution continues at an alarming rate. Last month, terrorists in Nigeria killed approx. 250 innocent people. That’s more than 8 people killed each day, on average, and far more than the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Nigeria, as of May 18. 

This newsletter will report on what’s happening with respect to religious persecution – and what still needs to happen – to stop this trend and why.
In today’s issue:

  • Religious Persecution Today / During COVID-19
  • US Senator Charles Grassley Speaks Out / A Special Envoy to Nigeria
  • USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report
  • The Global Impact of Genocide / A National Security Issue
  • President Buhari Deceiving Nigerians and International Community
  • Next Steps

Religious Persecution Today / During COVID-19

Long before COVID-19 became a household name, religious persecution had become a troubling reality, with increasingly tragic results worldwide. Torture, kidnapping, imprisonment, slavery, trafficking, and even death are among the issues running rampant as people of faith face seemingly endless attacks.

Studies by domestic international organizations have found that Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. According to a report by Open Doors USA, more than 260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution.

Pew Research Center says that Nigeria is among the countries with the largest reported increase in religious violence by organized groups since 2007. The country is currently ranked the 12th worst in the world in terms of Christian persecution.

In December, the country was placed on the State Department’s “special watch list” of countries that tolerate or engage in severe violations of religious freedom.

Even as the world turns its collective attention toward stopping the spread of COVID-19, terrorists in Nigeria are not letting up. Instead, they are exploiting the crisis.

  • On March 24, Boko Haram killed ninety-two Chadian soldiers in an ambush around the Lake Chad area; and
  • At least forty-seven Nigerian soldiers died in northeastern Nigeria in an ambush by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) fighters.

As governments shift military personnel to support the COVID-19 response, Nigeria will be even more vulnerable to these types of attacks. 

To make matters worse, it’s being reported that Christians are receiving the leftovers of government aid – while Muslims receive greater relief support, especially in areas governed by Sharia law.

The senseless killing and discrimination of innocent Nigerian Christians must stop.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (gettyimages-10417463081)

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley Speaks Out / A Special Envoy to Nigeria

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) is among those paying attention to the atrocities taking place in Nigeria. On May 13, he sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback saying, “I am concerned about a rise of communal violence in Nigeria that disproportionately affects Christians in the country, particularly in the Northeast and throughout the Middle Belt.”

In his letter, the Senator asks for information, including information about the appointment of a special envoy to Nigeria, to ensure “that Christians and other religious minorities in Africa’s most populous country are safe from persecution” which he says will prevent the further destabilization of the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel, and is consistent with our nation’s values and interests. 

Senator Grassley’s support for a special envoy to Nigeria was good news for the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON). Leaders of the organization launched a global campaign to turn the eyes of the world to Nigeria’s “Silent Slaughter”

They add their voices to the growing chorus advocating for action, and specifically – for a special envoy – that is gaining momentum.

On January 27, 2020, more than 140 non-government organizations, faith-based groups, policy experts, and others delivered an open letter to President Trump and his administration to continue to urge a U.S. Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region.

Calls for the envoy began months ago, with groups like ICONSave the Persecuted Christians (STPC), lending their voices to the cause. Their calls were heightened following news that Rev. Lawan Andimi was beheaded by Boko Haram after refusing to deny Christ. That same month, Pastor Denis Baguari of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, a well-known political advocate for Christians, was reportedly killed in a night attack; and the Islamic State released a video of an 8-year-old child soldier killing a Christian man in Nigeria and another showing the beheading of 10 Christian aid workers. 

Tony Perkins (USCIRF Chairman) with Rebecca Sharibu (Leah’s mother)

USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report 

The ongoing atrocities in Nigeria are detailed in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s just released 2020 Annual Report, which provides recommendations on U.S. foreign policy. The report is critical for two reasons:

  1. Nigeria is included as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its egregious violations of religious freedom; and
  2. Leah Sharibu, who has been in captivity for more than two years, is included as a Prisoner of Conscience

Among other things, the Nigeria report includes the individual views of Commissioners Gary L. Bauer and Johnnie Moore who state that, “it is our conviction that Boko Haram, and those tribesmen inspired by them, intend on ethnically cleansing Nigeria of any Christian it cannot subjugate while threatening everyone that stands in their way, whatever their religion or ethnicity.” 

This confirms Nigeria is failing her citizens to provide freedom of religion and basic protection and confirm the need for action.

ICON released a statement on the report that Breitbart’s Thomas D. Williams, PhD, highlighted in a piece titled, Committee Calls for U.S. Special Envoy to Nigeria to Stop the ‘Silent Slaughter’ of Christians:

“terrorist groups like Boko Haram have perpetrated ‘unspeakable violence’ against unarmed and undefended Christian communities over the past decade, and the persecution has gone from bad to worse, resulting in a “silent slaughter.”

“Tens of thousands of innocent lives have been lost, the vast majority of them women and children,” the group said. “Thousands of churches have been torched. Entire communities, villages, and towns have been devastated. Millions have been kidnapped or displaced from their homes following persecution.”

The Global Impact of Genocide / A National Security Issue

The need for action is critical.

While this genocide may seem worlds away, the effects are vast and far-reaching, and will be felt far into the future. If things go from bad to worse in Nigeria and the country implodes, the consequences will not be contained by the country’s borders. Indeed, there is very much at stake here.

Journalist John L. Allen, Jr recently said:

Nigeria is an emerging African superpower, it’s the largest oil producer in Africa with proven reserves of 37 million barrels (10th-largest in the world), and it’s also the country with the world’s largest mixed Muslim/Christian population. If things go bad, the consequences won’t be confined to Nigeria’s borders, but could spark economic, military and cultural upheaval around the world.
Sooner or later, the international community will be forced to recognize that the fate of Nigeria’s Christian population isn’t just a human rights issue – though it’s certainly that – but also a major global security concern.

Sadly, we’ve been here before. 

When the United Nations was confronted with warnings of an impending genocide in Rwanda, experts did nothing effective. At least 800,000 people died as a result of the crisis.

Four years later, U.S. president Bill Clinton went to Rwanda to apologize for the U.S. government’s failure to act. He said in part:

The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began.

We must not let history repeat itself. Action is needed in Nigeria now.

President Buhari Deceiving Nigerians and International Community

In case we need another reminder why swift action is critical in Nigeria, Christian teenager Leah Sharibu was kidnapped by Boko Haram during an attack on her school more than two years ago. More than 100 girls were taken along with Leah – and while five of the girls perished and the rest released through back-channel efforts, Leah remains in captivity. Although unconfirmed, it’s been reported that the devout Christian has been forced to accept Islam, marry a Boko Haram commander, and gave birth to a baby boy earlier this year.

This month, Leah celebrated her 17th birthday – the third birthday in captivity. While President Buhari has vowed to redouble efforts to save Leah and the other girls, Leah’s parents have recently said the Federal Government has been deceiving Nigerians and the international community with promises of rescuing Leah from captivity.

A spokesperson for the Sharibu family said, “It seems that the government simply wants to make Nigerians and the international community who demand the release of Leah to be quiet.”

Sadly, Leah’s story is not the only tragic one coming out of Nigeria. There are a number of girls still held captive from an April 2014 attack on a boarding school in Chibok and attacks are ongoing.

We need to bring Leah and all of the missing girls home.
Read more on Leah’s story here

Next Steps

The Nigerian government has shown it will not take action on its own accord. The U.S. government must do everything in its power to help stop this crisis before it goes from bad to worse. 

Stephen Enada (ICON President)

About the International Committee On Nigeria (ICON)

ICON is a consortium of Nigerians and other nationalities who have combined efforts to help Nigeria. Our mission is to create a community where rule of law guides every facet of societal interactions in Nigeria. ICON promotes human dignity, the right to live, religious freedom, and the protection of the vulnerable against all forms of persecution.
For more information on ICON, visit
For more information on ICON’s Silent Slaughter campaign, visit