Former NFL tight end and outspoken Christian, Benjamin Watson, is calling on Americans fighting for racial justice in the U.S. to also call for an end to violence against Christians in Nigeria, as activists warn the world might be ignoring a possible genocide.
Watson, 39, who announced his retirement earlier this year after 16 seasons in the NFL, participated in a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where he sat next to former Democratic presidential candidate and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, to speak out against the violence perpetrated by Fulani radicals and extremist groups like Boko Haram.
Hosted by the International Committee on Nigeria, the event was designed to raise awareness of the violence experienced by Christian communities in Nigeria as estimates suggest that millions of people have been displaced and thousands have been killed in recent years due to extremist violence taking place in the northeast and violence carried out by herding radicals against predominantly Christian farming communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region.
“I am here for many of the same reasons that everyone else is,” Watson explained. “I can remember several years ago it being impressed upon me that the Body of Christ here in the United States is dealing with our own issues. But compared to what is going on around the world in many respects, we need people that stand up for those who are being persecuted. At some time, it may be us.”
The football player, who has spoken out about many injustices over the years, including abortion and sex trafficking, explained that he was first made aware of what was happening in northeast Nigeria with Boko Haram’s insurgency when militants abducted 276 female Christian students from a school in Chibok, Borno state, in 2014.
“We can remember the hashtag of #BringBackOurGirls filling our timelines. We remember even the first lady of the United States and celebrities even tweeting about this,” Watson recalled. “Now today, six years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. The hashtags and social media campaigns have ceased, but for many of those friends and families and communities, their lives have not been forgotten.”
The Super Bowl XXXVIII champion explained that while the abduction of the Chibok girls captured the hearts of the world, it was “just one of thousands of killings and kidnappings, razing of entire communities and burning of churches that have happened at a genocidal rate for the last 20 years.”
“It is not only Boko Haram,” he said. “Most recently, it is Fulani herdsman who have largely operated with impunity and have targeted and attacked Christian communities.”
“The killing in the region is greater than that committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria combined,” Watson added, repeating a statistic mentioned earlier in the conference, Christian Post reported.
“More than 60,000 Nigerians have been killed and 2 to 3 million have been displaced,” he continued, quoting an estimate from the Nigeria Silent Slaughter campaign. “That is something to consider because they have been moved away from their homelands and starvation and those sorts of things are happening as well.”
Nigeria is ranked as the country with the third-highest score on the 2019 Global Terrorism Index, only behind Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians are most severely persecuted. Nigeria was in December, listed in the U.S. State Department’s special watch list of countries that tolerate or engage in severe violations of religious freedom due to the “lack of effective government response and the lack of judicial cases being brought forward in that country”.
Would you pray for Christians living in Nigeria? Please pray they will receive peace and comfort, and that one day they’ll be able to practice their faith openly without fear of death.