Mass killings and persecution targeting individuals based on religion continue to occur across the globe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Early Warning Project ranks Nigeria as 17th on its list of nations at risk for new mass killings and other atrocities.
One of the 25 most-populated countries in the world, Nigeria's complex problems related to ethnic and religious conflict put the country at risk. Sadly, the world has ignored the violence already taking place there, as well as the potential for this violence to become a much larger humanitarian crisis.
The rising mass violence and killings by both state- and nonstate-led actors targeting civilians in Nigeria give us reason for alarm. Much of this interreligious violence has targeted both Christians and Muslims. According to the Early Warning Project, Nigeria rose from the 20th to 17th in 2019 for countries most at risk for mass violence.
Mass killings in Nigeria do not receive wide discussion in the worldwide media. Lack of public attention has never forestalled the potential for genocide to occur. Nigeria is one of four countries in the region the Early Warning Project identifies as experiencing both state-led and non-state-led mass killings. Among other risk factors identified by the project are its high population density and infant mortality rate, ongoing armed conflict within its borders and a history of mass killings in the country.
Interreligious violence and killings have targeted both Christians and Muslims for reprisal. Though they do not constitute a single extremist or terrorist group, Fulani militants have decimated entire villages, causing thousands of deaths and displacing an estimated 1.8 million Nigerians. Since 2011 more than 6,000 people have been killed in Nigeria. According to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index, militant attacks on Christians accounted for a majority of Nigeria's 2,040 terrorist fatalities in 2018.
Displaced Nigerians have spread across the country and neighboring nations, where they face challenges accessing food, water, shelter, and other basic rights such as safety and security. With more than 1.3 million Nigerians suffering from modern slavery and human trafficking, we cannot ignore the long-term implications of this crisis.
America cannot again turn its back on the suffering of innocent humans. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the United States still has moral and ethical responsibilities and abilities to protect civilians anywhere, many of them women and children, from genocide. The administration must change course and formally acknowledge this crisis. Moreover, the U.S. State Department must dispatch a special envoy and designate Nigeria as a country of special concern.
When much of the world has begun to shelter in place, and with U.S. efforts to confront genocide in other regions already falling short, Americans might easily discount Nigeria's troubles as “their problem” or “just one more problem.” But if the history of the Holocaust taught us anything, the convenient or flip thing to do is not always the right or moral thing to do.
Our leaders must act now on this international crisis. By formally recognizing the humanitarian crisis and confronting directly religiously motivated killings in Nigeria, we still have a window of opportunity to save lives now and prevent yet another genocide from occurring in the region.
Steve Carr is director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Purdue Fort Wayne.