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Nigeria needs a US special envoy

People react as a truck carries the coffins of people killed by the Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria January 11, 2018.
People react as a truck carries the coffins of people killed by the Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria January 11, 2018. | (Photo: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

Africa’s most populous country is Nigeria, with a population that today numbers 200 million and that is on track by 2050 to be larger than America’s. Nigeria is also poised to become its continent’s biggest problem.

Terrorists associated with Boko Haram and Fulani militants are slaughtering, enslaving, expelling and otherwise persecuting a growing number of Nigerian Christians. Some Muslims have also been killed. Nigeria’s government has not been successful in preventing such horrors, and these traumatic effects are rippling throughout that nation and neighboring states in the Lake Chad region.

Unless something is done at once, Nigeria may implode, prompting incalculable suffering for its people and the prospect of many millions of them fleeing, posing what rock star Bono has warned would be “an existential threat to Europe.”

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Fortunately, something can be done to help stave off such a disaster if President Donald Trump adopts a model used successfully by one of his predecessors to deal with a similar crisis in another African nation.

In 2001, George W. Bush appointed former Sen. John Danforth to be America’s Special Envoy for Sudan. A respected veteran legislator, Amb. Danforth successfully forged a unified and robust policy among often fractious U.S. government agencies, including the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the International Religious Freedom Commission, the U.S. mission to the United Nations and the intelligence community.

The ambassador then proved a formidable advocate with the Sudanese government and international community on behalf of the Christians and other minorities Khartoum was relentlessly attacking in the south, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. Thanks in part to his efforts, South Sudan ultimately gained its independence from Sudan—a notable achievement, even if violence continues to be a problem on both sides of the new border.

A U.S. Special Envoy is now urgently needed for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. With each passing day, the Christians—who make up roughly half of Nigeria’s population, especially those in the northern and central regions of the country—and others are in mortal peril.

Unfortunately, much of the West has responded to this unfolding disaster with indifference. Four years ago, world leaders and many individuals responded to the kidnapping of the Chibok girls with #bringbackourgirls. With the approaching fifth anniversary of that outrage in April, just under half of the girls are still in captivity and the world is silent.

The silence has only emboldened the perpetrators of such crimes. Indeed, the unprovoked murder of at least 15,000 Nigerian Christians and the destruction of 900 of their churches reflects a deliberate, genocidal campaign, one characterized by the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, as aimed at rendering most immediately the north of Nigeria free of Christians.

Such ambitions have precipitated the following, among other ominous developments, making the appointment of a Special Envoy like John Danforth for Nigeria and its neighboring region not merely desirable, but imperative:

  • In the Lake Chad region, there are estimated to be 2.2 million refugees displaced by the violence in Nigeria that is now impacting Cameroon, Chad and Niger as well.
  • The attacks that killed American military personnel in Niger last year were the result of al-Qaeda operatives radicalizing members of Nigeria’s Fulani. Today, such terrorist groups are also arming them, as well as Boko Haram.
  • The U.S. government's Famine Early Warning System has warned that Nigeria constitutes one of the planet’s largest food insecurity crises. In addition to the millions of Nigerians experiencing a food emergency, the people of Chad and Niger are facing a similar disaster.
  • In 2017, more Nigerians than any other nationality crossed the Mediterranean illegally to Europe. An estimated 15,000 Nigerian women and girls are victims of human trafficking in Italy alone. If the violence in Nigeria results in the implosion of that populous nation, it is certain that the refugee flows that have rocked the European continent to date will pale by comparison.

To his credit, President Trump has personally addressed his concerns about this crisis with Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari. But America’s vital interests require action as well. The place to start is with the proven technique of appointing a Special Envoy capable of forging the unified and sound American policies required if a full-on catastrophe in Nigeria is to be avoided—and then advancing them effectively with its government.

Frank Wolf represented the 10th District of Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 2015. Tony P. Hall represented the 3rd District of Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 2003 and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture from 2002 to 2006.

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