Thomas Jefferson wrote what he considered to be the greatest accomplishments of his life, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1777, where he said people have a “natural right” to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. James Madison would use this statute as a model while drafting the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The sentiment carried forward nearly two centuries later, when Religious Freedom Day was first proclaimed in January 1993. Past presidents have used this occasion to ask Americans to take time to reflect and to remember the rights they enjoy by living in a country where they can worship freely.
Last year, President Trump broadened the discussion, using the occasion to call attention to all those suffering at the hand of religious persecution around the globe. He was right to do so. The harsh truth is that mass violence and religious conflict continue at an alarming rate. As Religious Freedom Day 2020 passes, we are reminded that countries like Nigeria, Iran and Afghanistan need strong action taken against the terrorist groups committing this violence if the persecution is to stop.
I have spent more than two decades working on projects to address these issues in Nigeria, specifically. While the country rarely makes international headlines, Nigeria ranks highest in religion-related social hostilities among the 25 most populous countries in the world. The unfortunate truth is that for far too long, too little has been done to address the escalating violence, which is playing out along in ethnic and religious fault lines. The result has been a state lacking a swift and consistent response on Boko Haram. The same can be said for policies around violence in the Middle Belt from Fulani extremists.
As a result, since 2015, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust estimates that more than 6,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria (1,000 in 2019 alone) and as many as 12,000 more have been displaced from their homes. In July of last year, the Jubilee Campaign, an international human rights nongovernmental organization, wrote a report to the International Criminal Court stating that “the standard of genocide has now been reached” in Nigeria.
Douglas Burton, a former State Department official who publishes news investigations of terrorism in Nigeria recently described the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria as the former Congressman Frank Wolf has described it: “a genocidal crisis of our age.”
The true extent of the ripple effect of the mass killings taking place at the hands of the terrorist organizations responsible, including humanitarian issues, human trafficking and economic strife in the region, among others, may never be captured in simple statistics. There too much, it goes too far and too deep to capture everything. That’s why action is so critical. That, and inaction against these terrorist groups only embolden them to take more extreme actions.
Religion is central to how Nigerians understand themselves. As such, the meaningful protection of religious rights — through the rule of law and inclusive governance — will be critical for long-term stability in Nigeria.
We can certainly understand that.
As a nation founded by those fleeing persecution, religious freedom is not just an essential government decree we enjoy. It’s woven into our very nature that was passed down to us by our colonial ancestors. It’s an idea Americans have fought fervently for at home and abroad for centuries.
As Americans we know religious freedom is an inalienable right given to every man no matter nationality. It’s time that we as a country take a stand and hold these radical groups accountable for their crimes against mankind and end the violence happening in countries like Nigeria.
African Victims of Persecution to Hold Prayer Vigil and
Rally at Capitol Saturday
Washington, DC – As prayer
activists plan a vigil at the Capitol for a Nigerian kidnap victim, lawmakers move
to pressure the government of Nigeria to act.
Friends of Leah Sharibu, the schoolgirl who refused recant her faith to Boko Haram terrorists in 2017, will gather at the Grant Memorial on the West face of the Capitol on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
A petition to President Muhammadu Buhari signed by three U.S. Senators and 11 Congressmen was released Wednesday. The letter thanks the government of Nigeria for its efforts to gain the release of all the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in February of 2017 but asks the president to do more.
“The United State and Nigeria maintain a strategic relationship critical to both our interests and is built on mutual values which cannot be reconciled with Leah’s ongoing imprisonment,” according to the letter. “We respectfully urge your administration to use the full extent of your power to secure Leah’s safe return.” Signers included Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Benjamin Cardin; Congressmen who signed included Gus Bilirakis; Christopher Smith; Doug Lamborn, Vickey Hartzler, Louie Gohmert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Daniel Lipinski, Jamie Raskin, Sheila Jackson Lee, Juan Vargas and Chrissy Houlahan.
“Both Tony Perkins and Sen. Cruz said they were committed to keeping Leah’s release in the forefront of their mission, and we will see many other senators and congressmen join the letter as signers,” according to Faith McDonnel, an executive of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, who attended the meeting. “This letter is a great start!”
“The International Committee on Nigeria welcomes the growing advocacy on Capitol Hill for the release of Leah Sharibu and other schoolgirls kidnapped by Nigerian terrorists, and there is great hope stirring that the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian emigres in the United States are starting to speak up,” says Kyle Abts, co-founder of ICON and a sponsor of the rally Saturday. “It is encouraging that the current Administration is forward-leaning on religious freedom in Nigeria,” Abts added.
The mother of Leah Sharibu, along with Dr. Gloria Puldu, the president of the Leah Foundation, were surrounded by praying believers on Thursday, Oct. 24 in the Hart Senate Office building where Cruz and Tony Perkins, a commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) spoke in support. “Leah is a Christian. A Christian who refuses to renounce her faith and convert to Islam. And that is why she is still being held hostage by Boko Haram,” Cruz reportedly said at the meeting. “There is hope and there is power. A few voices like a candle in the dark of a cave can light the very darkest recesses. Our voices together are powerful.” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee attended the meeting and gave her condolences to Rebecca Sharibu.
Abts and other activists with ICON are urging the appointment of a special envoy to the Lake Chad Basin to coordinate the resources of all nations in the region in the wake of advances by Boko Haram in the eastern part of Nigeria, and vicious ethnic terrorism in the Middle Belt of that nation. The call for a special envoy to Nigeria was echoed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at an ICON sponsored press conference at the National Press Club on Oct. 14 and at the Wilson Center and the Hudson Institute the following day. Former President Obasanjo warned at all these meetings that Fulani-tribe terrorists and Boko Haram soldiers were combining in the state of Mali, nearby to Nigeria. He warned that if Fulani extremists and the Islamic State fighters of Boko Haram capture a failed state such as Libya then, “all nations north of the River Congo would be in trouble.”
The Prayer Vigil for Leah will be held at the U.S. Capitol, First Street SE, Washington, D.C at the reflecting pool on the West side of the Capitol at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26.
“Pity me and get me out of this serious situation”, Leah Sharibu.
Leah Sharibu remains in captivity. Since February 19th, when she was abducted by Boko Haram – specifically ISIS West Africa – until today she remains a heartache for Leah’s parents and a problem for President Buhari.
People question what Buhari is doing to release Leah Sharibu. Buhari was able to secure the release of the 109 Dapchi kidnapped victims, except Leah Sharibu. Why is he unable to release her?
Is Buhari not putting his full effort to seeing her release? Is he not able to negotiate with the terrorists? So, what do we know?
August 27th a short audio recording surfaced with Leah pleading, “I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation,” she said. “I am begging you to treat me with compassion. I am calling on the government, particularly the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation. Thank you.”
There are others who are in captivity with Leah, but are being killed by Boko Haram. Two aid workers were executed when the Federal Government did not meet the terrorists’ demands. Saifura Khosa and Hauwa Leman were kidnapped in March but were executed on September 18th and October 15th, respectively – they were working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Shamefully, it took Buhari eight months to finally speak to Leah’s parents and that was by a phone call on October 2nd. Buhari claimed that he will do all he can to secure her release and that no effort would be spared to ensure her rescue.
Then, on October 12th President Buhari seemed to be going into action when he sent a high-profile delegation to see Rebecca Sharibu in Dapchi. The activity in this area of Yobe State saw hundreds of armed troops (i.e. army, civil defense, mobile police, etc.), armed vehicles and helicopters which conveyed two security commanders and three ministers including the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
While there remains hope, the fact is she remains in captivity of Boko Haram – specifically ISIS West Africa. Leah’s parents (and her brother, Donald) continue to seek for her immediate release and for President Buhari and the Nigerian government to free her from Boko Haram.
Donald Trump reminded the world when he met with Nigeria’s President Buhari on April 30th in the Oval Office, that there is still one girl remaining in captivity. Many in Nigeria and in the international community want to know where she is and what is being done to release her.
International Committee On Nigeria (ICON)
PH: 404.988.0611 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Confirmed: Leah is Alive
Do not stop praying!
Because you have been praying and asking others to pray for her release we believe that she will be released soon. Leah’s parents confirmed to ICON today that it is, indeed, her in the picture and are relieved to discover that she is alive!
So, do not stop praying for her immediate release and the Buhari and the Nigerian government will act to free her from her Boko Haram captors.
Please, help us get the attention of your lawmakers.
Simply, click on the picture and complete the form – it’s that simple!
The International Committee On Nigeria (ICON) is asking you to Stand With Nigeria!
There can be no more excuses!
Now is the time to rise up and get behind an initiative that will bring change to Nigeria. We’re not merely talking about electing a suitable President but bringing lasting change and enduring hope.
In 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped 219 Chibok girls, Nigerians exclaimed “Never again!”
It took 3 years to get 106 girls released and the world asks, “What about the remaining girls?” The government has shared nothing nor offered any hope to their release.
Then, in 2018, within a year of seeing a few of the freed Chibok girls, there was another attack and 110 girls were taken from a school in Dapchi. 5 girls tragically died and the government left behind 1 girl, her name is Leah Sharibu.
Why were over 100 girls released but there was 1 remaining? Is it because she was the only Christian? Is it because the government can’t negotiate with Boko Haram in an effective manner?
Meanwhile, Boko Haram continues to kidnap and abuse cities and villages throughout Northern Nigeria. Furthermore, why have the Fulani been allowed to increase their attacks across the Middle Belt without impediment?
Yet, with all the pronouncement and declarations of the Nigerian government there still remain unanswered questions:
- What are they doing to release the kidnapped girls, especially Leah Sharibu?
- What are they doing to protect their citizens from attacks?
- What can the Nigerian government do to protect citizens from further attacks?
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“We want a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, NOW, NOW!!!”
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