WASHINGTON – Organizations representing Nigerian Christians have called on the United States to officially recognize Boko Haram as a terrorist group at a press conference on Thursday in the nation's capital.
Leaders from the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria made their case, sharing that they have tried to get the Islamic jihadist militant organization in Africa to be labeled a terrorist group by meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, drawing up petitions, and working with other organizations, including several American groups.
Emmanuel Ogebe, special counsel at the Jubilee Campaign and member of the panel, told The Christian Post about the American support for their efforts. "There are several American human rights and religious organizations that have been following the issue on Nigeria," said Ogebe.
"[There are] several members of Congress who have been very aware of the situation and have been working to raise awareness on this."
Ogebe also told CP about the interfaith efforts, which have included support by moderate Muslims in Nigeria, albeit few from the United States.
"We haven't asked and we haven't received any support from any American Muslim groups. But we did meet with a Muslim member of Congress this morning to share our thoughts," said Ogebe. "We also reached out to a Buddhist member of Congress. We believe that this is an issue where all humanity can agree kids should not be killed in churches."
Pastor Laolu Akande, executive director of CANAN, told CP that this was a question of universal human rights.
"We are reaching out and we continue to reach out to all people, whether they are Muslims or Christians," said Akande, who served as moderator for the press conference.
For years, the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram has been targeting Christian communities, schools, and churches in the predominantly Muslim Northern region of Nigeria.
While the Nigerian government has declared martial law in those areas and groups like Boko Haram have been put on the defensive, attacks against Christians continue.
'3,000 Christians were killed'
In addition to Ogebe and Akande, other individuals on the panel were Dr. James Fadele, president of CANAN and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. (CAN)
Oritsejafor, who was recently re-elected president of CAN, gave the main speech at the event regarding Boko Haram and its terrorist activity against Nigerian Christians. "In my first term, about 3,000 Christians were killed. Last year alone averaged over 100 every month," said Oritsejafor.
"Every week I get a text message – a church burnt or a pastor was murdered or Christians were randomly rounded up on a roadside and summarily executed."
Oritsejafor got emotional when he told those gathered about Reverend Faye Pama Musa, former CAN Secretary for Borno, who was murdered at his home by Muslim extremists.
"He was assassinated in his home in the presence of his kids," said Oritsejafor, who mentioned that he had known Musa since he was young.
"He had been the lead coordinator of relief and documentation of Christian widows and orphans in the state. His widow now joins the list he kept and is just one of the latest."
Petitions And Legislation
According to Ogebe, there were two petitions sent to the White House on the issue: one a formal petition and the other an online petition.
Dated for Thursday, the formal petition was addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and was signed by several organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, CANAN, the Family Research Council, the Igbo League, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the Jubilee Campaign.
"We the undersigned organizations believe that the criteria for designating the Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) are overwhelmingly met," reads the formal petition in part.
"As we approach the 10th anniversary of Boko Haram's launch of violent attacks on Christmas eve 2003, we urge you to use your good office to designate this lethal mass murdering organization as a foreign terrorist organization."
The other one, posted on the White House Petitions website, needs to receive at least 100,000 signatures before it can be guaranteed an official response from the Oval Office.
Furthermore, a Senate bill, S.198, has been introduced that would "require a report on the designation of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization…" It is sponsored by Idaho Sen. James Risch.
In his closing remarks, CAN President Ayo Oritsejafor quoted Edmund Burke's famous statement, "All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing."
"Evil has prospered. It is way past over time to do something. The FTO debate is a needless one. It should have been done a long time ago," said Oritsejafor.