NIGERIA: UNFOLDING GENOCIDE?
The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) is a group of over 100 British Parliamentarians from different political parties and from both Houses of Parliament. It exists to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
On Monday, June 15 2020, the APPG released a report after a 2-year inquiry into the escalating inter- communal violence in Nigeria characterised as the ‘farmer-herder conflict’.
Below are the highlights and key points and recommendations from the report:
1. The violence has claimed the lives of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. It has caused untold human and economic devastation and heightened existing ethno-religious tensions.
2. Following centuries of Fulani herders and farmers having lived in relative harmony, recent year have seen regular violent ‘clashes’ in which thousands of civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence.
3. The APPG quoted the International Crisis Group (ICG) who estimate that over 300,000 people have been displaced and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with Boko Haram, representing the most severe threat to civilian lives in Nigeria.
4. Mercy Corps report that the violence is costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.
5. During the writing of this report, the killings have continued. As recently as 2 April 2020, more than 300 Fulani herders reportedly attacked the Christian village of Hukke, near Jos, killing seven and setting fire to at least 23 homes
6. Attacks by Fulani herders have led to periodic retaliatory violence, as farming communities conclude that they can no longer rely on the authorities for protection or justice. Some local vigilantes, led by youths, take matters into their own hands by going on violent reprisals against Muslims who they believe are backed by the Government.
7. While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources.
8. Targeted attacks against churches and heightening religious tensions indicate that religious identity plays a role in the farmer-herder conflict
Key Factors Contributing to the Conflict
The APPG examined multiple drivers of conflict, including resource competition, religious sectarianism, poor land management, population growth, climate change and insecurity.
The influence of politics
Political actors working to further their own interests have deepened religious divisions.
Nigerian Government response
Another of the main drivers of the escalating violence is the Nigerian Government’s inability to provide security or justice to farmer or herder communities. Failure to prosecute past perpetrators of violence, or heed early warnings of impending attacks has facilitated the rise of armed militia which often form along ethno-religious lines to protect community interests.
The inability of the Nigerian Federal and State Governments to protect Christian farmers, and the lack of political will to respond adequately to warnings or to bring perpetrators of violence to justice, has fostered feelings of victimisation and persecution.
Criminality also plays an important contributory role in the violence. Rural communities across Northern and Central Nigeria, including Fulani herders and farming communities of diverse ethnic and religious identities, have lost their livelihoods to village raids, cattle rustling and kidnapping.” SfCG report that this growth of criminality has coincided with the skyrocketing price of cattle.
• ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ are taking advantage of the Boko Haram violence in the Northeast, and general insecurity in Nigeria, to engage in widespread ‘rural banditry.
Evidence received by the APPG suggests that the ready availability and low price of firearms in Nigeria has played a role in escalating violence. The high price of cattle and the low price and ready
availability of guns has led to herders in particular being well armed with sophisticated weaponry, which they sometimes acquire through black market channels or through wealthy cattle owners who arm them to protect their herds.
Another factor that is widely considered to have exacerbated the conflict between farmers and herders is the spread of ‘fake news’ via social media. Such mis- or false information often incorrectly attributes stories, and even footage, of violence from other African countries, to farmers or herders in Nigeria. This has led to heightened tensions, violent reprisals and an environment in which peace building is increasingly difficult.
1. Humanitarian assistance
Over £2 billion of UK bilateral aid was given to Nigeria btw 2011 – 2018, an equivalent of
£800,000 every day. However, the APPG has some concerns over how it is spent; and how it might be better spent – especially to protect those at risk of attack by Islamist extremists.
2. Research and Data Collection
Competing narratives about the causes of this conflict abound. In order to develop and effectively implement appropriate policy responses to the conflict, it is vital to have a better, shared understanding of the situation.
In order to properly tackle the conflict, there is a need to elaborate and implement a strategy that incorporates all the complex different factors upon which the conflict is predicated. Holistic plans are needed.
4. Security and Justice
For there to be peace in Nigeria, there must be justice. It is vital to both improve security responses and ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable.
5. Resource Management
As the conflict between farmers and herders is, at its core, a dispute over resources, appropriate resource management is vital to reducing the violence.
6. Peace building and Reconciliation
The breakdown of traditional dispute settlement tools is one of the main reasons conflict btw herders and farmers has turned from disagreement to violence. Therefore, a process of reconciliation between groups, to open dialogue and de-escalate tensions is crucial.
7. Media and Misinformation/False Information
Linked to improving research and data collection, improving the standard of investigation and reporting by media actors is vital to improving the public and the international
community’s understanding of the conflict.
Education that promotes human rights for all and respect for the other is key to long-term peace in Nigeria.
9. The UK and the International Community
Her Majesty’s Government and the International Community also have a vital role to play in preventing violence, not only for Nigeria’s benefit, but for the benefit of the entire region.