UK Cross-Party parliamentarians have urged the British government to play a more active role in stopping an ‘unfolding genocide’, following an investigation into the widespread and devastating attacks taking place in Nigeria.
The worsening ethno-religious violence prompted the almost 2-year investigation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which published its findings in a report – launched on June 15 2020 in Westminster.
As recently as April 2020, more than 300 Fulani herders reportedly attacked a Christian village near Jos, killing seven people and setting fire to at least 23 homes, according to the findings of the APPG report – Nigeria; Unfolding Genocide? – which has been dedicated to Leah Sharibu.
In February 2018, 14-year old Leah was abducted by Islamist extremists from her school in Dapchi, north-east Nigeria; with subsequent reports she has been subjected to rape, given birth to a child and denied her freedom for refusing to convert to Islam as a precondition for her release.
The report finds that a key factor driving the violence is the impact of the growing power and influence of Islamist extremism across the Sahel.
While not necessarily sharing an identical vision, some Fulani herders have adopted a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches.
Other key factors driving this violence, the report finds, include rapid population growth, climate change, desertification, resource competition, the influence of politics, criminality, the ready availability of firearms and the spread of misinformation.
The conflict is compounded by the Nigerian Government’s failure to respond adequately to the violence, to protect communities or to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.
The APPG; a cross-party group of more than 100 British Parliamentarians, said it was alarmed by the dramatic and escalating inter-communal violence in Nigeria characterised as the farmer-herder conflict.
Jim Shannon MP, APPG chair, said: “As Parliamentarians, I believe it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of all the survivors and victims of violence, and all those who are suffering but who cannot speak out for themselves.”
This violence, which is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy £10.5bn per year, has manifested along religious lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians.
The violence has claimed the lives of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust reported that between January and November last year more than 1,000 Christians were killed, “in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths prior, since 2015”.
And Amnesty International estimates that between January 2016 and October 2018 “at least 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured [and] 5,000 houses burnt down”, while International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates 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.
Among the many harrowing accounts that have been recorded is one about a woman who was forced to watch her husband and children get shot and then left alive to bear the pain.
In another account a woman recalls finding out about the horrific torture of her sister, who was raped and had her wrists cut off before she was shot through the heart.
For centuries, Fulani herders have lived in relative harmony with settled farming communities.
Disputes would occasionally arise, as herders moved their cattle seasonally onto farming lands in search of water and grazing areas, but leaders would generally resolve them peacefully.
Unfortunately, this relationship has deteriorated rapidly resulting in enormous violence.
Recommendations made by the APPG include; the UK government applying more vigorous measures to ensure monetary aid sent to Nigeria is used correctly, a process of reconciliation between groups, to open dialogue and de-escalate tensions, and improving the standard of investigation and reporting by the media.
Reacting to the report’s release, Ayo Adedoyin, chief executive of PSJ UK, said: “We welcome the publication and recommendations of this report and urge the Nigerian and British governments to work together to positively and speedily address this existential crisis and to protect all lives in Nigeria.”