President Buhari was the first Sub-Saharan African leader to meet with Trump in Washington. (Photo: Nigeria Presidency)

US President Donald Trump decried the killings of Christians in Nigeria as he met with the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, in Washington yesterday (30 April).

Nigeria has been plagued by violence attributed to Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt and northeast. Benue state has been particularly affected, with attacks happening almost on a daily basis.

The killing of 19 worshipers, including priests Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, last week (24 April), has provoked outrage in Nigeria and elsewhere.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has urged President Buhari to step down in the wake of the massacre. Various advocacy groups, including Open Doors International, had called on President Trump to seize the opportunity to call Buhari to account for allowing unchecked atrocities against Christians in his country.

“We have had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria,” said Trump as he met with President Buhari at the White House. “We are going to work on that problem very, very hard because we cannot allow that to happen.”

President Buhari was the first Sub-Saharan African leader to meet with Trump in Washington. In response, he said efforts were being made to ensure that killings in the country were stopped.

He attributed the ongoing violence to cross-border insecurity resulting from the fall of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.

“The problem of herders in Nigeria is a very long historical thing,” he said. “The Nigerian herders don’t carry anything more than a stick and occasionally a machete to cut down foliage and give it to their animals. These ones are carrying AK-47s.

“People should not underrate what happened in Libya. Forty-three years of Gaddafi; people were recruited from the Sahel and trained to shoot and kill. With the demise of Gaddafi, they moved to other countries and regions and carried the experience with them.”

President Buhari also pledged to rescue the Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped and held by the radical Islamic group Boko Haram.

“[The] Chibok girls’ kidnap was before we came into power,” he said. “We rescued some of them. The Dapchi girls were 106; we rescued 100 back, four died, one is still in captivity. We are very grateful to the United Nations for helping out. We have not given up on the Dapchi girl.”

The remaining girl, Leah Shabiru, was the only Christian among those abducted and was held, her Muslim friends claimed, because she refused to deny her faith.

Many experts on Nigeria now believe that the violence across the Middle Belt, which World Watch Monitor has reported on at length, has been responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram.