Escalating Systematic Violence In Nigeria – Fulani Militias and Boko Haram Threaten The Future Of one of Africa’s Great Countries.
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Question for Short Debate in the House of Lords
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the continuing violence between communities and armed groups in Nigeria.
My Lords, the tragic topicality of today’s debate was underlined last weekend when more than 200 people were reported to have died in co-ordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Plateau state in Barkin Ladi. These attacks began on 22 June and lasted until 24 June. The majority of the victims were women and children. At one location, 120 were killed as they returned from the funeral of an elderly member of the Church of Christ in Nations. A dawn to dusk curfew was established and, as I heard first hand yesterday from the honourable Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, the area remains tense. This most recent episode is shocking, but it is also the latest in an extended pattern of violence that has become all too common across Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt and increasingly in some of the more southern states.
Last week Sam Brownback, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was in Nigeria. On a single day during his visit, there were six suicide bombings by Boko Haram, the largest number ever on any single day. As we will hear later from my noble—and courageous—friend Lady Cox, who has visited these areas, these attacks have been systematic and go on unabated.
Human rights groups such as CSW have catalogued every reported attack. While it may not be definitive, the list attempts to provide as comprehensive a record as possible of known attacks and of the death toll in the Middle Belt during the first quarter of this year, underlining the critical need for urgent and effective intervention. I have sent many of these details to Ministers but in the interests of time I will just give the House a snapshot from a few days in April of this year. On 10 April, 10 people were killed in Ukum in Benue state. On 10 April, 51 were killed in Wukari, Taraba state. On 12 April, 41 were killed in Ukum, Benue state. On 12 April, two were killed in Makurdi in Benue state, and another 41 were killed in Ukum in Benue state.
The charity Aid to the Church in Need, on whose board I sit in a pro bono capacity, has also documented appalling acts of violence, which I have sent to the Government. In April, during early morning mass, militants attacked the parish in Makurdi killing two priests and 17 members of the congregation. ACN has also highlighted the 15,000 orphans and 5,000 widows in the north-east—an area that has come under repeated attack from Boko Haram. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what humanitarian aid we have been able to provide for victims.
CSW reports that in the first quarter of 2018, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria. The death toll in these four months, purely from herder militia violence, stands at 1,061. An additional 11 attacks recorded on communities in the south of the country claimed a further 21 lives. One spokesman said: “It is purely a religious jihad in disguise”.
There has certainly been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities right across the Sahel, over land, grazing and scarce resources—I have visited places such as Darfur myself and have seen that at first hand. It is true that attacks by herder militia have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities conclude that they can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice. Between 1 January and 1 May this year, there were 60 such attacks. However, compared with the recent escalation in attacks by well-armed Fulani herders upon predominately Christian farming communities, the asymmetry is stark and must be acknowledged by the UK Government in their characterisation and narrative of this violence. Given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of Fulani attacks, does the Minister believe that the references to “farmer-herder clashes” still suffice? In the face of the reports of violence collected by impartial human rights groups, there is no place here for, as it were, moral equivalence; nor is it sufficient for the Government merely to urge all sides to seek dialogue and avoid violence. I would urge the noble Baroness to revisit the narrative, conduct her own assessment and either confirm or dispute the data that I have given to the House already—I know other noble Lords will do the same.
Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK47s and, in at least one case, a rocket launcher and rocket-propelled grenades, the Fulani militia have murdered more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than even Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands of people. This is organised and systematic. We must ask where this group of nomadic herdsmen is getting such sophisticated weaponry from. I wonder whether the Minister has had a chance to look into this; if not, will she give an undertaking to do so?
While recognising the complex, underlying causes of this violence, we must also acknowledge a growing degree of religious motivation behind the violence. The local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria recently revealed that herdsmen have destroyed over 500 churches in Benue state alone since 2011. Perhaps the Minister could also respond to reports that during many of these well-planned attacks by Fulani militia, their cattle are nowhere in sight, and they are often reported by survivors to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” during these attacks. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this undoubtedly sectarian aspect of the escalating violence.
Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, I cannot see much practical action that has been taken to end the violence, which has emboldened perpetrators even further. Moreover, in the light of such an inadequate response thus far, communities will begin—and indeed already are beginning—to feel that they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice, and a few take matters into their own hands. In the words of an Anglican canon in the Middle Belt, “Why do so many security service personnel spend their time guarding our politicians, rather than protecting our people?” I also put on record a recent statement to President Buhari issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. Among other things the statement said:
“Since the President who appointed the Heads of the nation’s Security Agencies has refused to call them to order, even in the face of the chaos and barbarity into which our country has been plunged, we are left with no choice but to conclude that they are acting on a script that he approves of. If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens. He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.”
That is a pretty awesome statement from a bishops’ conference.
Concern about partiality was also raised on 24 March, by the highly respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Y Danjuma, who stated that the armed forces were, “not neutral; they collude” in the,
“ethnic cleansing in … riverine states”,
by Fulani militia. He insisted that villagers must defend themselves because,
“depending on the armed forces”,
will result in them dying,
“one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop … in all the states of Nigeria; otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play”.
I would like to hear, therefore, what practical steps the UK Government are taking to work with the Government of Nigeria in developing effective solutions to bring an end to this escalating violence. Can the Minister tell us whether there is a strategic plan and what representations have been made directly? I know that finding solutions is complex, but there is nothing to stop the Minister calling on the Government of Nigeria to recalibrate security arrangements and to resource their forces as a matter of urgency, in order to offer sufficient protection to vulnerable communities.
As I close, I thank the noble Lords who are participating in today’s debate and go back to where I began: to the more than 200 people, mostly women and children, who were killed in sustained attacks on 50 villages by armed Fulani militia just this past weekend. People are dying daily. On 18 June, the Archbishop of Abuja referred in the Telegraph to what he described as “territorial conquest” and “ethnic cleansing” and said:
“The very survival of our nation is … at stake”.
This alone should serve as a wake-up call. Are we to watch one of Africa’s greatest countries go the way of Sudan? Will we be indifferent as radical forces sweep across the Sahel seeking to replace diversity and difference with a monochrome ideology that will be imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply? We must not wait for a genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could very easily be repeated.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this, unfortunately timely, debate and declare an interest as project director of the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief.
While the focus in Nigeria was, for many years, on violence in the Niger Delta area over oil revenues or on the Boko Haram attacks in the north-east, the escalation of attacks between predominantly Christian farmers and predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen has gone underreported. As the noble Lord has outlined, in only the past week, as many as 200 Christian farmers were killed in central Plateau state, but the crisis between farmers and traditional herdsmen is not confined to Nigeria. Such violence extends across west Africa and the 2017 Global Terrorism Index estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed across west Africa in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and settled communities since 2001. The Fulani are an ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 west and central African countries. The causes of this violence are of course complex but include environmental reasons, religious motivation, terrorism and poor security services.
As the ECOWAS 1998 cross-border transhumance agreement allows herders to move across borders in search of grazing lands, it is not surprising that reports in Nigeria suggest that Fulani are coming from multiple countries. So, in April this year, it was encouraging to note that a further ECOWAS summit was held to discuss the issue, which has led to discussions about changing this agreement to prevent the uncontrolled movement of potentially violent groups across borders. The ECOWAS countries are now co-operating and are particularly looking at greater investment in livestock management and a common agricultural policy. But banning cattle-grazing, as has happened in three Nigerian states, has to be incorporated within a wider plan. The foremost livestock producers’ group, the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has endorsed the Government’s 10-year national ranch development plan. Have Her Majesty’s Government been approached by ECOWAS or the Nigerian Government looking for Department for International Development expertise and resource to enact such a ranch plan?
It is surely too simplistic to label these deaths as driven solely by desertification and competition for resources. While there have been attacks by Fulani herdsmen on Muslim farmers in Zamfara state, these are overwhelmingly outnumbered by attacks on Christians. Religious polarisation and extremism have helped to escalate violence in Nigeria to a greater degree than in other countries in the region. An existing conflict such as this and a strong ethno-religious identity has bought Fulani groups into wider jihadi movements, such as the largely Fulani terrorist group, FLM, which has joined with Islamic State. The FLM is apparently now seeking to bring the herdsmen’s grievances from Nigeria within its scope. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree that there has been an escalation in Nigeria of late? What do they believe are the causes and what is the extent of Boko Haram’s role in this? Are Boko Haram militants part of these attacks? It might explain the numerous reports, outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of attacks with no cattle in sight. Is Boko Haram itself now part of a wider terrorist network?
Parliamentarians and religious leaders have an important role in resolving this conflict and the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief’s conference last month for faith leaders and parliamentarians in Accra highlighted the wealth of resources available across west African Commonwealth countries. Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia offer superb examples of how to utilise faith and parliamentary leaders in calming religious tensions and addressing narratives of religious extremism, which will be vital to securing long-term peace in Nigeria.
In the short term, the easy accessibility to an estimated 380 million unregistered small firearms in Nigeria, roughly two guns per person, is a key factor in the scale of the deaths. These arms are looted from the army or black market sources across west Africa. Parliamentarians in Nigeria are currently trying to co-ordinate a meeting of regional parliamentarians connected to their respective security committees to discuss ways of checking the flow of arms around the region. Could the Minister outline whether the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union can be resourced to help this important parliamentary initiative?
The potential for this violence to spread is of concern to us all and I suspect some of the victims are relatives of British Nigerian diaspora, but the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria provide the best opportunity for Nigerians themselves to demand their Government deal with this crisis. On my one visit to Nigeria, I witnessed that talk radio, civil society and religious groups in the south, especially churches, are hugely influential. I had the privilege of addressing an audience of 1 million people physically there. I hope the Nigerians, especially Nigerian Christians, will realise that much more of the solution is in their hands than they perhaps realise.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on their contributions, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this subject to us today. There has been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities across the Sahel. In Nigeria, attacks are now occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that references to “farmer-herder clashes” are wholly inadequate. Armed with relatively sophisticated weaponry, particularly AK47s, the Fulani herder militia is thought to have murdered more men, women and children, between 2015 and 2017, than Boko Haram.
It has overrun and seized property and land, and displaced tens of thousands of people. In 2017, herder militia claimed 808 lives in 53 villages in southern Kaduna alone, burning down over 1,400 houses. As pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, during most of these well-planned attacks, herders’ cattle were nowhere in sight. Over 180,000 people in Benue state are currently living in IDP camps because the herder militia violence has displaced them. More than 500,000 displaced people are living in temporary accommodation, and over 80,000 school-age children are living in IDP camps with no access to education.
Attacks continue unabated, with seemingly little government action. This has entrenched impunity. Apart from verbal condemnations, there has been no action to end the violence. No attacker has been brought to justice. With perpetrators emboldened, attacks by herder militia have now spread to southern Nigeria. No longer able to rely on the Government for protection or justice, communities are seeing a growth in vigilantism and retaliatory justice. The growth in murders of villagers and community leaders in Benue has also led to calls for President Buhari to consider his position, and for the reassessment of security arrangements as a matter of urgency.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 24 March this year the respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma, stated that the armed forces were “not neutral” and that “they collude” in the “ethnic cleansing” of riverine states by the Fulani militia.
Earlier this week, I too had the opportunity to meet with the honourable Kwewum Rimande Shawulu, courtesy of the advocacy organisation CSW. The honourable Shawulu is a member of the Nigerian federal House of Representatives in Taraba state. Among his wide-ranging writing and editorial activities, he is currently chair of the National Assembly Army Committee, which gives him unique insight into Nigeria’s current security challenges.
In our discussions, he was able to rebut the claim that the anti-grazing laws are the cause of the spread of violence. The only states with anti-grazing laws are in fact Taraba, Benue and Ekiti, yet attacks have been occurring over 10 states. For example, in Plateau state, where there are no anti-grazing laws, there have been many killings, including last weekend, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when over 200 civilians were reported killed. Interestingly, while there is some evidence that some of the violence has a religious dimension, the honourable Shawulu argued that the only affected area was Adamawa state, which is predominately Christian. Other areas with similar land and other resources have suffered no attacks, be they Christian or Muslim.
The overriding concern is that the growing instability and lawlessness in the region is providing fertile ground for kidnapping, banditry and terrorism with impunity. If this is not addressed, there is a real danger that the activities of Boko Haram, ISIS and similar terrorist groups could penetrate and destabilise the whole region. If not addressed, this could create a conflict and humanitarian crisis on a scale that would engage the international community, the UN Security Council and the UK. The prospect of terrorist cells spreading through Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, and to territories beyond to threaten Europe cannot lightly be dismissed.
I urge the Government to act now, working alongside their Nigerian counterparts and fellow Commonwealth members, particularly while the UK holds the post-CHOGM Chair-in-Office. I suggest that DfID might examine the aid programme to Nigeria to ensure that provision is made for the communities that have been victims of the Fulani attacks. It should also ensure that minority communities in the north affected by Boko Haram attacks have access to humanitarian aid. There are also issues such as collective Commonwealth support in promoting the non-discriminatory and “even” application of the law to restore and strengthen faith in the law.
The attacks the Nigerian people are suffering can surely be mitigated, if not eroded, with the support of the agencies of the UN, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, the faith community and international NGOs. Can the Minister, in her response or in writing, set out how the UK might plan to play a primary role in such a venture?
My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing a debate on the serious situation that threatens the very stability of Nigeria. With the noble Lord I deplore the violence and, with other noble Lords and indeed the victims themselves, some of whom have been in contact with many of us this week, I call on Her Majesty’s Government to use their influence on the Nigerian Government to ensure the security of their people and to bring the violence to an end.
The violence here and in other extreme situations is symptomatic of underlying issues in Nigerian society, ranging from security to justice to employment to the exclusion of children from education through poverty, and even including the effects of desertification and the epidemic of drug abuse. They all have their part to play. At a more fundamental level still is the distance between the demands of the constitution and the daily lives of many Nigerian people. Intercommunal and interreligious violence of any sort has no root in Nigeria’s constitution. Rather, the constitution is a challenge to political leaders to apply it and to local religious and civic leaders to respect it.
I would like to focus on the importance of unbiased public information across Nigeria, whether through traditional media, social media, formal education, private or state, or informal religious education, in order to build resilience into communities in a way that protects against malign political manipulation of religious identities and nurtures respect and reconciliation between peoples. As shown by another CSW report, Faith and a Future, education impacts on other human rights and,
“can either create a culture of tolerance or fuel stereotyping, animosity and extremism”.
That is surely happening in Nigeria, certainly in the northern and central states, and probably in the south as well. Unfair representations of the other, especially the religious other, are a powerful source of energy for the political purposes of those who seek to gain influence and power. They are not difficult to access and then use to fuel the fires of fear on which hatred thrives and violence depends. Fair, truthful, unbiased education in all its forms has its own greater power to resist the engine of hatred and starve the forces of violence.
Amidst the tragic realities of the suffering of minorities in Nigeria, the appalling suffering of Christians in the northern states to which other noble Lords have drawn graphic attention, the suffering of Muslims caused by reprisals from Christian communities, the prejudice towards Shia Muslims, and even, as we have heard, the wanton murder of Fulani men going about their lawful business en route to cattle markets—amidst the terror of all this suffering, good education in all its forms offers hope for the future. The federal and state Governments have levers they can use—especially in formal education, both private and public—to improve the quality of education as a power for good and not for harm.
Education operates in many forms, but my remaining comments will focus on the content, conduct and character of education within schools, private and state. My interest is in how the religious and ethnic other is portrayed. This includes not only the content of religious education that students receive about their own religion and the religious and ethnic identity of others but the way that content is taught, the way people from minority communities are themselves treated in schools—whether they are afforded their full constitutional rights—together with the character of the educational experience throughout the school: is it cultivating a culture of respect? My understanding is that each state education department has an inspectorate division. This gives a strong lever to monitor the delivery of education according to the principles of the constitution and the guidelines set at federal level.
There are some hopeful signs on the ground. The governor of Kaduna state is pursuing a thorough process of educational reform in which he recently dismissed large numbers of unsuitable teachers and recruited even larger numbers of qualified teachers, increasing their allowances to incentivise teachers to work in rural areas. So I conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government have offered their assistance to state governors who seek to raise the standards of education to a higher level, not only of academic achievement but of more religiously responsible citizenship, and to monitor it rigorously.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this timely debate.
As we have heard, historically attention has been focused in the north of Nigeria, with the much-reported rising number of attacks by Boko Haram. But over this last weekend, as we have also heard, violence between the mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers in central Nigeria, the middle belt, killed 200 people and destroyed countless houses. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about escalating religious violence against Christians and violations of freedom of religion and belief, which are largely unaddressed by the state.
Ethnic and religious relations in Nigeria have always been a delicate balancing act, but these ongoing tensions with this outbreak of violence are as much products of poverty and inequality across the country as they are of deep-seated division. If we want to address issues of safety and security in Nigeria, we also need to address the inequality that modern Nigeria faces. Almost 87 million people in Nigeria live in extreme poverty, on $1.90 a day or less, and this number has increased over time, making Nigeria the country with the highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world. Nigerian government figures show that between 1980 and 2010, the number of people in poverty increased by 153%, with nearly 5 million people facing food insecurity and 49% of the younger generation either unemployed or underemployed. I refer to the register of Members’ interests when I point out that Nigeria sits as the 128th of 149 countries in the Legatum Prosperity Index, with particularly low scores in safety and security, economic quality and health.
However, between 2000 and 2015 the number of millionaires in Nigeria increased by over 300%, and Nigeria has had an average economic growth of 7% annually since 2004. This story is an indictment of successive Nigerian Governments’ failure to manage the country’s wealth, and of a deeply ingrained culture of corruption. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics estimates that small-scale bribery, for example to facilitate bureaucratic tasks, amounts to $4.6 billion a year.
Nigeria’s poverty is significantly more profound in the mostly Muslim north of the country, with 2010 figures showing 74% of the population of the north in poverty—20% higher than in the mostly Christian south. This division is exacerbated by an educational and investment divide between the north and south. The challenge to avoid clashes along existing lines of tension as a result of this is a great one.
In addition, the Boko Haram insurgency has had an enormous impact in north-eastern Nigeria in particular, with 20,000 dead since 2009 and at least 2 million people displaced. The Nigerian military, as we have heard, has shown itself to be ill equipped to deal with this insurgency, and, despite the Nigerian Government’s claims that Boko Haram is in retreat, these statements have only been followed by an increase in attacks. The group still poses a significant threat to the stability of this region.
Those who have been displaced in north-eastern Nigeria number nearly 2 million, in addition to 200,000 Nigerians in neighbouring countries. This situation is a continuing humanitarian crisis, which the Nigerian Government have also shown themselves ill equipped to tackle, leading to the establishing of major internally displaced people camps. However, the situation in these Nigerian refugee camps is appalling, with outbreaks of cholera, crippling shortages of food and water, and reports of up to 30 armed attacks a month on refugee camps in 2017. Far from being places of refuge, the crowded camps have been made into death traps as Boko Haram seeks soft targets.
With the UK Government now committing to aid funding of £200 million over the next four years, compared to the £100 million we committed to in 2017, will the Minister outline how the Government are intending to use this money effectively to focus on the key priorities that affect the country? This latest spate of violence only shows how urgent the need to address inequality is, and with next year’s presidential elections looming it is essential to ensure that the situation is stabilised so that the election is conducted in a safe environment.
We know what leads to prosperity in a nation. It is stable government that is free of corruption; safety and security; a good business environment; and strong skills development. I ask the Minister in particular to outline the balance of aid between a humanitarian response and support for the long-term nation-building response.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing this debate at this tragically critical time. Over recent decades there have been numerous attacks on Christians in the northern states, where sharia law has been established, as well as in Plateau state in the central belt. Thousands of Christians have been killed, hundreds of churches burned, and homes destroyed. The tragedies escalated with the rise of Boko Haram, which also killed Muslims who did not accept its Islamist ideology.
I have visited many times and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in Bauchi, Kano and Plateau states. But more recently, as other noble Lords have described, there has been a very disturbing change in the behaviour of the Fulani herdsmen. Since time immemorial, they have driven their huge herds of cattle through other people’s lands, causing tensions and some violence, but traditionally, they have moved on. However, in the last two to three years they have adopted a new policy: attacking Christian villages, killing local people, destroying homes, driving villagers off their lands and settling in their place. Now there has been this recent escalation of attacks on Christian villages by the Fulani, with, as other noble Lords have highlighted, over 200 civilians killed in Plateau state just last weekend. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last time I was in Nigeria, I visited four villages which had been destroyed by Fulani. I stood in the rubble of the pastor’s home where he had been slaughtered, and I saw the huge numbers of Fulani cattle roaming through the destroyed villages. There are concerns that the Fulani militants are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of driving Christians out of their homelands in northern and central-belt Nigeria.
Time allows only a few examples of quotations from local people, but they are indicative of many more. They provided first-hand evidence of the horror and terror now prevailing in these areas. This is one quote:
“Fulani herdsmen, yesterday 23 June, on a rampage, attacked about 10 villages; ‘in Nghar village alone, about 70 corpses were recovered as the entire village was razed down’”.
This is another:
“The attack last night was vicious … armed Fulani men dressed/masked in black entered Rasak & Gana Ropp villages, shooting randomly … The house of one … family … was surrounded & directly attacked … the Fulani were shooting into the house … as they shouted ‘Allahu Akbar!’”
This is another:
“Other villages in the area … were completely sacked by the armed herders. Survivors from the attacks from these ‘villages are believed to still be hiding in the bushes’”.
Over 60 people are known to have been killed there.
This is another quote:
“The attacks are continuing in other villages and in Gashish. As of 6 pm, at least 30 people were feared dead with several houses and cars razed down”.
This is my last example:
“In a continuing killing spree, Islamic Fulani cattle herdsmen killed eight people in Bassa local council, near Jos. From Sunday 17 June, till today (20th June) we have had no peace in the villages around here … all these villages have been attacked one after the other in three days”.
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, who had taken custody of a baby whose mother was killed, said:
“I am in tears because I have taken a child whose mother was shot dead. A family of four killed, another two young men shot dead and so on … Where are those who will protect the poor? Where is the leadership? It is a week and three days now with daily killings of poor unarmed and unprotected citizens of Plateau State”.
Related concerns expressed by local people include the interpretation of the situation as intercommunal attacks, with both sides being equally guilty. One resident said:
“It is annoying when politicians say this is a clash between herdsmen and farmers. I ask, how does a woman farming in her own farm clash with Fulanis carrying AK-47s?”
Other concerns include: failure of security services to protect civilians; impunity, with no one responsible for the killings being called to account; the escalation in the number of internally displaced peoples; and the destruction of crops, which are the livelihood of local people.
I want to make three requests of the Minister. Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Government of Nigeria to take effective action to protect all their citizens and to call to account those who have been perpetrating atrocities? Will Her Majesty’s Government work with the high commission to ensure that adequate humanitarian aid is available for those suffering the loss of family members and the destruction of their homes and crops, and forced to become IDPs? Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Nigerian Government to undertake an investigation into the ethnic and religious persecution of the affected people and the operation of the Nigerian army during these attacks?
There is real fear that these developments are part of a strategy by Islamist fundamentalists to drive Christians out of their traditional homelands in northern and central-belt regions of Nigeria. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to respond appropriately to the very real possibility of religious cleansing.
My Lords, the human rights situation in Nigeria has deteriorated significantly in recent years, with a particular surge in attacks by non-state actors—notably armed Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia.
Successive Governments have failed to respond effectively, and the violence perpetrated has increased exponentially. Although ongoing in central Nigeria since 2011, attacks spiralled following President Buhari’s inauguration in May 2015, with states experiencing intense violence in a cyclical manner. Such attacks by increasingly well-armed herdsmen on farming communities in the states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba now occur with frequency, precision and asymmetric violence, rendering references to “farmer-herder clashes” obsolete.
Although far from exhaustive, the following events, documented by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, give a powerful insight into the growing problems. Over 150 villagers were killed in Adamawa state in attacks in the run-up to Christmas 2017. During the festive season, villages in southern Kaduna, Benue and Adamawa were then attacked; churches were destroyed and villagers were killed and mutilated. On 24 December 2017, in southern Kaduna state, four villagers were killed as people gathered in the square of Nindem village, in the Godogodo district of the Jema’a local government area, in the evening to sing carols. A female choir singer was shot in the mouth and maimed horribly.
As the new year dawned, Fulani gunmen invaded the home of a traditional ruler in Arak, in the Sanga local government area in the southern part of Kaduna state, killing him and his pregnant wife. Gambo Makama and his wife are reported to have died at around 12.05 am. Their son was also shot, but survived and was hospitalised. Then, 2018 began with an attack by Fulani herdsmen on the Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue state, in which 73 villagers were massacred. At least 1,061 people are thought to have died in the first quarter of this month. Just this past weekend we saw the most recent terrible episode of violence in Plateau state, with over 200 people—mainly women and children—reported to have been killed.
The situation has been exacerbated by inadequate government action which has enabled attacks to continue unabated. Beyond intermittent words of condemnation, the Government have failed to formulate effective strategies to address this violence. This has entrenched impunity and emboldened perpetrators even further, leading to a growth in vigilantism and periodic retaliatory violence, as communities conclude they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice. However, this retaliatory violence is by no means symmetrical—the first quarter of the year saw 106 attacks by the herder militia in central Nigeria, while seven attacks within that timeframe on Fulani herders or communities claimed 61 lives.
The number of attacks and casualties is staggering, and our Government must recognise the considerable escalation in the regularity, scale and intensity of the attacks by Fulani militia on these communities in central Nigeria. We must commit to doing more to encourage and support the federal and state governments to provide protection to those who live in constant threat of attack by a force that constitutes a major threat to national security. As a matter of urgency, we must encourage the formulation of a comprehensive and holistic security strategy that adequately resources the security forces to address this and other sources of violence. Can the Minister provide assurances of action? Will the UK Government do all they can to work with the Government of Nigeria, encouraging them to be more proactive in ending this appalling violence and to protect these vulnerable communities living in constant fear for their lives?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing the debate. It is impossible to capture every aspect of this complicated situation in such a short debate, but I will briefly touch on the battle against Boko Haram, which is responsible for killing or displacing many thousands of people; multiple accounts, dating back over several years, of sexual attacks by Nigerian forces against women in refugee camps; and violence between herders and farmers, which increasingly resembles ethno-religious cleansing. Addressing multiple forms of violence presents a significant challenge to the Nigerian state, but this cannot and must not become an excuse for inaction.
The situation in Nigeria is equally challenging for countries such as ours. We have a moral duty to help, but we must ensure that such help is effective and is mindful of the various sensitivities involved. Can the Minister inform the House what assessment has been made of the UK’s capacity to provide additional assistance to Nigeria and what forms that may take?
The UK rightly provides training to support the fight against Boko Haram. We should continue to provide that training, but recent events highlight the need for us to also play the role of a critical friend. A fortnight ago, at least 31 people were killed by blasts in Borno State after the chief of the Nigerian army incorrectly told displaced residents that the militants had been defeated and it was safe to return home.
There are long-standing allegations, backed up by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that Nigerian soldiers have sexually assaulted vulnerable refugee women. What representations have the Government made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military?
Historically, the struggle between Fulani herders and settled farmers has been a result of competition for resources. Christian Solidarity Worldwide note that,
“attacks … are … occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry”,
that references to farmer-herder “clashes” no longer suffices. Despite the herder militia taking more lives during 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, President Buhari, who belongs to the same ethnic group, has been accused of turning a blind eye. Last month, NGOs co-ordinated a minute’s silence to remember 1,917 people killed by herders and armed bandits between January and May of this year. Concerns have been raised about freedom of expression, with some journalists prosecuted for hate speech after reporting the militia’s actions. Can the Minister confirm whether this conflict and its impact on Nigerian civil society were discussed when the Prime Minister met President Buhari in April? With some arguing that the conflict is being exacerbated by droughts, how are the Government tracking and responding to climate-related conflict across the globe?
I urge the Government to provide practical support to Nigeria that promotes peace and security, supports equitable economic growth, and builds the state’s capacity for the future. As we so often see in other parts of the world, it is only by creating the right societal conditions that Nigeria can overcome religious extremism, promote tolerance and limit the scope for the types of violence that have claimed too many lives in recent years.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate and for his long-standing interest in community relations. I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions this afternoon. I welcome the opportunity to give the Government’s assessment of the situation in Nigeria and to update noble Lords on United Kingdom action.
It goes without saying that the Government regard the situation in Nigeria as both challenging and deeply disturbing. There are a number of issues at play which are having serious humanitarian consequences. The first are the actions of Boko Haram, of which many noble Lords will sadly be aware. Boko Haram claims to represent Islam, but its interpretation could not be further from the spirit of that peaceful religion. It attacks Nigerians of all faiths who do not subscribe to its extremist views. Its activity—the abduction of schoolgirls and the killings in which it has engaged—is appalling. Its actions have caused immense suffering in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in both Christian and Muslim communities. We assess that the majority of its victims are Muslim. Nearly 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Boko Haram and its splinter faction, Islamic State West Africa, remain a threat to regional security. Achieving a long-term solution requires non-military measures to improve security and enable economic growth.
The other worrying issue to which many noble Lords referred and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly covered in his speech, is the violence between farmers and herdsmen in various areas across Nigeria, and in the Middle Belt in particular, where attacks are carried out by herders on farmers, and vice versa. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the question: does the description “farmer-herdsmen” suffice? This was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The description “farmer-herdsmen” is broadly correct, but it does not fully represent the complexity of the situation. Violence has escalated over the past year—the reasons for this are many—but we are not aware of evidence to support the view that religion is driving this conflict.
The other worrying issue is the extent of recent attacks. In an attack by farmers on herder settlements in Mambilla Plateau in June 2017, over 800 people were killed—the majority of them women and children. We are concerned by the increasing violence in recent months. Just last weekend reprisal attacks by herdsmen on farming settlements resulted in at least 86 fatalities—it may be more than that. My noble friend Lord Suri and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, very poignantly described the horrific nature of this violence.
As my noble friend Lady Berridge described eloquently, this is complex and it is far reaching. My noble friend Lord Ahmad noted in this House on 26 March that the causes of these clashes are complex. They relate to land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. The situation is not helped by a narrative which overplays the ethno-religious dimensions and oversimplifies a complex picture, conflating criminal violence, caused by cattle rustlers and bandits, for example, with community clashes.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked where the weapons are coming from. Regrettably, one suspects there is a widespread availability of weapons; I thought that my noble friend Lady Berridge encapsulated the extent of that problem, as did the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. In reality, religious extremism or sectarianism is not a key underlying cause of this violence and it would be wrong to conflate these land and water disputes with Boko Haram’s actions.
As Nigeria prepares for elections in 2019 there is a real risk that, without serious effort being made to stem the violence and address the root causes, the conflict between herders and farmers will worsen and become increasingly politicised, threatening peaceful solutions and elections in some states. That is why it is so important that Nigeria not only works to improve the situation in the north-east, but also works to address the causes of the violence between farmers and herders. It is imperative that there is a de-escalation of violence across all affected states. In this context, we welcome President Buhari’s recent commitment to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians and prevent the stoking of religious conflict.
My noble friend Lady Berridge specifically asked about a ranch plan and whether the UK has been engaged with this aspect. We are aware of the Nigerian Government’s proposals for creating cattle ranches for Fulani herdsmen and we are encouraging them to respect the rights and interests of all parties in finding solutions to this conflict.
As many, if not all, contributors have identified, all of this is causing a humanitarian crisis. In north-east Nigeria, 7.7 million people are in need of urgent, life-saving assistance and 1.8 million are displaced. This humanitarian crisis is a direct result of the fragile security situation caused by Boko Haram. My noble friend Lady Stroud spoke with authority on the levels of privation and the challenges that poses.
Very specifically, the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Tunnicliffe, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friends Lady Stroud and Lord Suri, all raised the issue of UK action. The United Kingdom is playing a leading role in helping the Nigerian Government to address immediate humanitarian needs. We have increased our aid funding to £300 million over the next five years. We provide assistance on the basis of need, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, and in line with the international humanitarian principles. Last year our support reached more than 1 million people, including children, women and the disabled. We are also fully committed to supporting Nigeria’s efforts to tackle Boko Haram. We have provided intelligence analysis and training for the Nigerian military. With regard to farmer-herder violence, we encourage and support mediation by the state, local government and traditional authorities to defuse community tensions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry referred to education and its importance. I could not agree more. DfID programmes are supporting improvements in the quality of education and increasing access for disadvantaged boys and girls to get education, focusing on three states in the north of the country where human development outcomes are particularly poor.
A number of contributors, not least the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud asked what the balance is between humanitarian and development programmes from that spend. As I said earlier, DfID will spend £273 million this year, balanced between shorter-term humanitarian aid and longer-term support to help the Government of Nigeria to improve basic services, and to increase levels of prosperity and standards of good governance. For example, 1.8 million people gained access to clean water and/or sanitation between 2015 and 2017 through DfID programmes and 260,000 additional women and girls are using modern methods of family planning.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud also asked what assessment has been made of the UK’s capacity to provide additional assistance. I think I have covered that with my response in describing what that £273 million is intended to support.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Chidgey and Lord Tunnicliffe, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, all asked what representations the Government have made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military. The military training and assistance provided by the UK for the armed forces of Nigeria have consistently emphasised the importance of adherence to internationally recognised rules of engagement as well as the importance of international human rights and international humanitarian law. All our military capacity-building support is delivered in line with HM Government Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance to mitigate the risk of human rights violations. We are concerned about Amnesty International’s report alleging sexual abuses by members of the Nigerian security services. We have made clear to the Nigerian authorities the importance of protecting civilians in conflict and detention.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also asked whether this conflict and its impact were discussed when the Prime Minister met President Buhari in April. They discussed a number of issues, including security threats faced by the Nigerian people. The focus of these discussions was the conflict with Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa in north-east Nigeria and the abduction of the Chibok and Dapchi girls.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also raised climate change and the argument that the conflict is being exacerbated by droughts. Climate change is having a negative effect in Nigeria, particularly in the north, where desertification is increasing. We are currently reviewing the support we are providing to help Nigeria to tackle the effects of climate change.
A final couple of points were raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about freedom of religion and belief, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lady Stroud. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised this issue and tensions between religious communities specifically with state officials in Borno and Yobe during a visit there in May.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Berridge referred to the Commonwealth. I understand that there is no involvement with the Commonwealth at the moment. The Nigerian Government have not asked for assistance from the Commonwealth or from other countries.
It is imperative that the Nigerian Government address the violence and instability in both the north-east and the Middle Belt areas of the country. They need urgently to put in place long-term solutions that lay the foundations for a sustainable and peaceful future for all communities. The United Kingdom will continue to provide support to the Government of Nigeria in their efforts to build that future. I thank noble Lords for ensuring that this deeply troubling situation remains the subject of continuing discussion.=====================================
.ACN News: Thursday, 28th June 2018 – NIGERIA
Christians demonstrating peacefully in May against violence in Mbalom, Benue State (Credit: ACN)
Bishop: Threat of genocide against Christians
- Prelate calls on West to act over “ethnic cleansing”
By Murcadha O Flaherty and John Pontifex
A BISHOP in Nigeria has warned of the threat of genocide against Christians in the country’s Middle Belt region, describing an upsurge of violence by militant Fulani herdsmen as “ethnic cleansing”.
Bishop William Avenya of Gboko told Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, of growing fears amid reports that, so far this year, 492 people have died in his state of Benue, which has a Christian-majority population.
In an appeal to the international community, he told ACN: “Don’t wait for the genocide to happen before intervening…
“Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda.
“It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended.”
Local reports yesterday (Wednesday, 27th June) said extremists “slaughtered more than 200 people” in 10 mainly Christian communities near the city of Jos, although police said there were only 86 fatalities.
In his ACN interview, Bishop Avenya went on to say of the militant Fulani: “They are criminals and terrorists, but they do not do the same things in the majority Muslim areas.
“We are convinced that what is happening is an ethnic cleansing of Christians.”
His comments come after other senior Church figures from the region described the militant Fulani campaign as a “clear agenda of Islamising the Nigerian Middle Belt”.
They include two other prelates from Benue State – Bishop Peter Adoboh of Katsina-Ala, Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi – and Bishop Matthew Audu of Lafia, from nearby Nassarawa state.
According to research by Christian persecution charity Open Doors, between May 2016 and September 2017, as many as 725 people died in violence in the Middle Belt’s southern Kaduna region – 98 percent of them Christians.
Bishop Avenya described Nigeria-wide peace demonstrations on 22nd May and called on the West to save lives in the country, saying: “Our faithful are being murdered or forced to live as refugees as a result of the violence.
“And the West continues to view the matter of the Fulani as merely an internal problem.”
His comments come after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) issued a statement calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to consider resigning for alleged inaction in response to what the CBCN called “the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become”.
Bishop Avenya also spoke of the supply of weaponry now used by militant Fulani
He said: “At one time these pastoralists were armed only with sticks.
“But now they are armed with AK-47 rifles – expensive weapons that they could not possibly afford. So who is supplying them?”
He added: “And besides, in these areas there are checkpoints every two kilometres. Is it possible that armed men followed by their flocks of cattle could have somehow become invisible?”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report found that “herder-farmer conflicts and ethnoreligious tensions continued to rise… [with] increased reports of concerns of an ethnic cleansing campaign against Christian communities”.
For more information, contact ACN UK Head of Press and Information John Pontifex on 020 8661 5161 or ACN Press and Digital Media Officer Murcadha O Flaherty on 020 8661 5175.