‘Attacks Are Unabated Without Govt Action, Entrenching Impunity’, British Lords Discuss Nigeria’s Insecurity

 

The Oasis Reporters

July 3, 2018

Baroness Elizabeth Berridge.

The mind boggling massacres committed in the Middle belt of Nigeria is receiving vigorous attention from the United Kingdom Parliament, Nigeria’s former colonial masters and this is coming a few months after President Donald Trump of the USA told visiting Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari that the USA was watching events in Nigeria critically as they would not allow the mindless killings to go on.

Contributing in the British House of Lords,Baroness Berridge (Con) said:

“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 transhuman 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 coordinate 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”.

Baroness Elizabeth Berridge of the Vale of Catmose is 46 years old (born,1972) in Rutland which used to be the smallest county in England. Much of the Vale is submerged under Rutland Water, the largest manmade lake in Europe.

Elizabeth is an active advocate of the fundamental right to have, choose, change and manifest one’s religion or belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Also speaking, Lord Chidgey (LD) stated:

“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 predominantly Christian. Other areas with similar land and other resources have suffered no attacks, be they Christian or Muslim.

“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?”

In his own remarks, The Lord Bishop of Coventry said: “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.

“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”.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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