Nigeria failing to protect Christian farmers from violence, British MPs say

The government of President Muhammadu Buhari needs to provide better protection and justice, the report said. AFP

The Nigerian government is failing to protect Christian farmers from ethnic Fulani herders in a spree of violence that has displaced 300,000 people and killed six times more than the conflict with Boko Haram, a British parliamentary investigation has said.

The report the by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) called for a rethink in how UK aid to Nigeria, estimated at more than £2 billion (Dh9.2bn), is spent to ensure religious minorities are better protected by British funding from persecution and discrimination.

The conflict between the mainly Muslim Fulani herdsman and Christian farmers has typically taken place in central Nigeria in an area called the Middle Belt States.

But despite the conflict, the report said the UK does not provide any humanitarian assistance to the area despite being one of the largest donors to the World Food Programme’s emergency operation in north-east Nigeria, where extremist groups such as Boko Haram have embarked on a murderous rampage.

The report’s authors said it hoped the government would be pointed towards “a far more rigorous and effective use of British resources”.

The APPG is made up of more than 100 members of the House of Commons and House of Lords and is headed by Jim Shannon, an MP from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party.

“Attacks by armed groups of Muslim Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians,” he said.

As a result of farming communities feeling they could no longer rely on authorities for protection or justice, violent reprisals on Fulani herders took place, the research found.

“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. Such retaliatory violence cannot be condoned,” the report says.

“However, their reprisals must be seen in the context of an urgent need for the authorities to enforce the rule of law to protect all citizens,” it adds.

Vice chair of the APPG, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said some observers had described the rising violence “as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing”.

“Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK-47s 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,” he said.

While the investigation identified a number of factors behind the escalating violence, the Nigerian government’s failure to provide security or justice to farmer or herder communities was cited as a main driver.

“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,” it said.

“The APPG agrees with Amnesty International’s conclusion that failure to protect communities, as well as cases of direct military harassment or violence, combined with an unwillingness to instigate legitimate investigations into allegations of wrong doing, demonstrate, at least, wilful negligence; at worst, complicity on the behalf of some in the Nigerian security forces,” it added.

Increased competition for resources, the proliferation of guns, the spread of misinformation and a breakdown in traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms have also been blamed.

Source: The Nation