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Last week, The Iowa Standard was able to interview Kyle Abts, who is the director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON).
ICON’s mission is to create a community where the rule of law guides every facet of societal interactions in Nigeria. The group promotes human dignity, the right to live, religious freedom and the protection of the vulnerable against all forms of persecution.
Abts lived in Nigeria since June of 2000. He and his family started to work among persecuted widows — some of which were Christian and some of which were Muslim.
It developed into efforts to try to reach other persecuted people.
“Over the past 10 years, really saw the increase of Muslim persecution against Christians,” he said. “Myself and my co-founder, Stephen Enada who is a Nigerian, began to really try to figure out how we could help Nigerians, specifically advocating for them here in the U.S. and in the D.C. world of political legislation and impacting international involvement and trying to put pressure on the Nigerian government to change.”
One of the challenges Abts said his group faces is getting through to politicians — mostly in the State Department.
“They don’t want to hear that,” he said. “They want to remove religion out of the whole thing. They’re not addressing the real root of the problem. Yes, this is an ethnic problem with some of the tribes in Nigeria, but by and large this is a religious problem.”
Another part of the challenge is making people aware of these problems in Nigeria.
“You’re looking at the U.S. as the home of the world’s democracy,” Abts said. “So, this Administration has put out a lot of great work to bring in international religious freedom, to help the cause of Uighurs, of Muslims in China, of different people in different cultures — some people who are atheists and don’t even have a religion.”
Every time you turn, Abts said, something else is slapping the Administration in the face.
“All these other issues that are outside of America are being ignored,” he said. “And it’s going to come to our doorstep soon enough. If this situation in Nigeria is not handled correctly, it’ll cause a global pandemic of immigration, of people already fleeing Nigeria. Of international crisis, of instability in Africa, which will affect Europe, which will affect the U.S. So, we’ve got to keep the front burner going but not ignore what’s going on on the back burner.”
ICON, he said, did not start out to be involved in the political realm. Hope, change and dialogue in Nigeria was the initial goal. But as those initial efforts fell flat, they turned their attention to the U.S. Government for help.
“The argument we brought here was how can we bring the influence of the American government into the international scene of Nigeria,” he said.
Both Senators Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley have been helpful, he said. The group wanted to see a U.S. Special Envoy sent to Nigeria.
“It’s saying that America is looked upon as a Democratically led world,” he said. “That we’re trying to bring about this democracy around the world and show people what it’s like.”
Also, Abts said, it is important that Nigeria is held to account for the aide and money being sent by America.
He’s been happy to see Ernst and Grassley step up on the issue, and added that places like Texas and Georgia have Senators who have also taken an interest. California and New York, he added, have a large amount of Nigerian immigrants who perhaps came to America 20-30 years ago to study and have since become citizens. They are still very much interested in what happens in Nigeria.
The Trump Administration has been a welcome change from the previous leadership.
Abts said he was in Nigeria when Obama was elected and everyone around Africa thought it was great.
“In his eight years, he did very little if anything to help Africa, specifically Nigeria,” he said. “Trump comes along in 2016 and he’s not afraid to face the President of Nigeria and say there are people dying in your country — you need to do something about it. There are Christians dying in your country — you need to protect them.”
The next day Abts said he was in a governor’s office and was told all hell was breaking loose because of what Trump said to the Nigerian President.
“This President that we have now talks, his administration does things and we see changes around the world,” Abts added.
Nigerians know Ernst and Grassley, Abts said. They appreciate both Senators sticking up for them. And it is encouraging to see them engaged despite not really reaping a bunch of benefits.
For more information, Abts said to visit the Silent Slaughter Nigeria website where they have an incident tracker. He also said to click on the petition to send a special envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad area.
“Nigeria needs to hear that someone is concerned about what’s going on,” he said. “The American government again is not coming in as the heroes, but they’re coming in to keep things accountable, keep things on task and bring sustainability and bring back democracy to Nigeria.”
Listen to the full interview here: