The Nigerian government has claimed that notions of genocide against Christians taking places across its country have been grossly overstated.
In a statement, Garba Shehu, a spokesperson for Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, accused the Indigenous People of Biafra (IDOB) of pumping $85,000 per month into an international smear campaign through the use of non-governmental organisations and media outlets in both the United States and Europe.
He urged the international community to reject what he believes to be a falsely generated narrative about what is happening on the ground.
Shehu warned that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IDOB) were “misusing the issue of the welfare of Christians purely to further their own political end" and "damage the international reputation of Nigeria."
“Nigerians and the international community are advised to be wary of this divisive campaign, which available evidence shows is being funded with a monthly spending of $85,000 USD since October 2019, with no records of the source of this largesse.
“The campaign consists of producing articles in the names of the alleged Christian NGOs’ leaders (of campaign groups created at the time this PR contract with a US lobbying firm was signed) and letters to and from members of Congress to the White House.
“Unfortunately, some Members of Congress have clearly been persuaded there is indeed a ‘Christian persecution’ underway in Nigeria – and do so quoting the campaign – and they are known to be taking up the case directly with the White House to appoint the special envoy."
Shehu added that a "very deep and wide investigation by an agency of the Nigerian government” had uncovered the presence of “two interconnected campaigns” being run by IPOB.
However, organisations involved in campaigning on behalf of religious minorities in Nigeria refuted the government's claim, noting that Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups have been running riot across the country in recent years. In 2020 alone, it has been reported that more than 600 Christians have been murdered by groups including Fulani Herdsmen, Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP).
Ann Buwalda, president of advocacy group Jubilee Campaign USA, said:
"This statement from Buhari’s officials is to distract from their own incompetence or collusion with the perpetrators of genocide on the Christian communities in the North and Middlebelt parts of Nigeria."
IDOP itself said that the Nigerian government went on the attack only after they submitted a brief to the US State Department informing officials of the violence perpetrated against the Christian community in Nigeria.
The group noted: “In the face of Mr. Buhari’s anti-Christian posturing and his complicit inaction to reign-in on herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists, Biafrans responded by organizing themselves under a group named the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, a devout Jewish adherent of dual Nigerian and British citizenship.
They added: "The truth is that the post-war struggle peaked in mid-2015 when Mr. Buhari systematically embarked on his Jihadist policies, coupled with his open toleration of Fulani herdsmen terrorists that had simultaneously commenced an intense ethnic cleansing of Christians, including Biafrans.
"This was also immediately, following a well-publicized comment by Mr. Buhari (during his campaign for the presidency) that ‘an attack against Boko Haram is an attack against northern Nigerian muslims’. Little wonder then that Boko Haram terrorism has peaked to new heights since Buhari’s Presidency."
Civil rights group International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law estimates that some 1,500 Nigerian Christians were killed between June 2015 and March 2020.
Last December, the US State Department added Nigeria to a special watch list of countries that are known to play host to “severe violations of religious freedom.”
Speaking to the Christian Post, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Commissioner, Johnnie Moore, said that Nigeria "would be totally immune to this criticism if it simply did more to protect its most vulnerable citizens."
He added: "I believe Nigeria is absolutely capable of protecting its citizens if it chooses to do so, but so far its efforts have been inadequate. After all, no one — including, the government itself — denies that innocent people are dying throughout the country unnecessarily, and sometimes, daily.”
Speaking alongside President Buhari in 2018, US President Donald Trump said he was "deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches, and the killing and persecution of Christians."
"It’s a horrible story," Trump added. "We encourage Nigeria and the federal, state, and local leaders to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths, including Muslims and including Christians."