The situation in Nigeria is complex. Religion is central to how Nigerians understand themselves. Thus, the protection of freedom of belief and religious rights — through the rule of law and inclusive governance — is critical to long-term stability in Nigeria.
Nigeria is dealing with corruption, impunity and religious persecution. Two of the world’s top five deadliest terrorist groups — Boko Haram and Fulani extremists — operate with great intensity within Nigeria. Terrorism in the country has caused more civilian deaths than either war-torn Syria or Pakistan have experienced. Whole villages have been decimated. These conflicts have resulted in the internal displacement of almost 1.9 million people, and refugees from Nigeria are fleeing to Europe by the thousands. Nigerian security-force abuses further add to these concerns.
Yet ICON, the International Committee on Nigeria, has enduring hope for Nigeria. Formed in 2017, this group of stakeholders is the foremost leader among Nigerian civil society groups working toward multi-religious action and the goal of all Nigerians being fully engaged in the democratic process. ICON believes in Nigeria’s unrealized potential, given the nation’s human and natural resources. The group is determined to build productive and collaborative partnerships that address the erosion of religious liberty and violations against religious freedom. Using the power of narrative and movement building, ICON is working to bring lasting change to Nigeria.
ICON contacted 21Wilberforce for help in connecting with other advocates, politicians and government officials in the U.S. It also wanted to learn how to better communicate and shift international understanding of the situation in Nigeria. Since our first meeting two years ago, 21Wilberforce has taken the strategic lead among NGOs by partnering with ICON to:
- Create a strategy and actionable process that both guides activities and maximizes influence in the effort to advance religious freedom in Nigeria;
- Frame issues in a clear narrative that captures the attention of lawmakers, advocates, people of faith, and the press and moves them to action;
- Craft effective messages supported by evidence-based research;
- Identify and advise on three specific policy requests;
- Launch the website https://StandwithNigeria.org;
- Engage various leaders and groups in the U.S. by making introductions and arranging meetings;
- Ask the Senate and the Trump administration to appoint a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region by launching a campaign that involved writing letters to Congress and the White House, testifying before Congress, grassroots mobilization, issuing press releases, and holding press conferences; and
- Establish an International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Nigeria.
“21Wilberforce is an advocacy organization staffed with principled and competent men and women. They have perfected the praxis of objective reporting and by this, victims of religious persecution and other crimes against humanity have been heard and supported,” said Stephen Enada, Executive Director of ICON. “Their work has helped ICON to advocate more effectively for victims of Boko Haram and Fulani militants in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria.”
In the last year, Nigeria has moved up on the list of countries that people are paying attention to (more fact-finding trips to Nigeria, more congressional hearings, more stories in the press, and more grassroots involvement). Developing narratives based on accurate research has helped ICON shift the dialogue among stakeholders that have policy influence, resulting in progress on the ground. Last, President Trump specifically mentioned religious violence during a White House meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
This moment brings with it an immense amount of possibility. More and more people are taking action on the right side of history. With every action taken, with every press release, with every conversation, ICON is transforming destructive narratives into ones that can bring lasting change in Nigeria.
Photo: 2018 ICON Visit to White House (L-R): Richard Ikiebe (PSJ), Kyle Abts (ICON), Rep. Frank Wolf (Rtd.), Pas John Yates (Anglican), Archbishop Kwashi (Anglican), Stephen Enada (ICON), Sara E. Makin (Deputy Asst. to President, Office of the Vice President), Olivia Troye (Spec. Adv. to Vice President, Counter Terrorism & Homeland Security)