UK Government ‘Turning a Deaf Ear’ to Genocide in Nigeria
by Baroness Caroline Cox, UK House of Lords and CEO, Humanitarian Relief Aid Trust
Following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok town in 2014, the rise of Islamist terrorism in Nigeria has rightly drawn international condemnation. Yet some of the deadliest outbreaks remain unreported.
In northern and central-belt states, thousands of civilians have been killed recently by Fulani militants. Vulnerable rural communities have been forced to abandon their homes. Churches have been burned to rubble. Entire families have been slaughtered. It is – according to the Nigerian House of Representatives – a genocide.
‘They wore red to conceal blood’
Since time immemorial, the Fulani have driven their herds of cattle across the grazing plains of west and central Africa, causing tensions and some violence, though traditionally, they have moved on.
In the last three-to-four years, however, increasing numbers of Fulani have adopted a new ‘land-grabbing’ strategy. It involves massacring local people, destroying homes and driving villagers off their farms to settle in their place. There are concerns that these herdsmen are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of forcing Christians out of their homelands.
I have visited many of the worst affected areas and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in places like Plateau, Benue, Taraba, southern Kaduna and Bauchi states. The scale of suffering is altogether overwhelming.
One survivor called Margaret told me, and I can still remember the tears in her eyes: “The Fulani militants took my brother, his wife and all their six children. They tied and slaughtered them like animals. My sister was raped and her wrists cut off before she was shot through the heart.” Lydia, from a neighbouring village, said: “They were hacking and killing people, making sure that those that were shot were finished off. They wore red to conceal blood splashes on their clothes as they butchered their victims.”
‘We are not safe in our homes’
In every village, the message from local people is the same: “Please help us! The herdsmen are coming. We are not safe in our homes.” Yet time and again, we have turned a deaf ear to their cry for help.
Despite reports from The Global Terrorism Index which classify Fulani militants as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world (with only Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabab being accounted deadlier) and despite the fact that most of their attacks begin with shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’, the UK Government continue to insist the “situation” has little to do with religion or ideology. It is far more palatable, it seems, to refer to the insurgency as “ethnic riots”, “land and water disputes” or “tit-for-tat clashes between farmers and herders”.
Such a characterisation of the insurgency is an insult to those who have suffered so much. The causes of violence are, of course, complex. But given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of attacks against predominantly Christian communities, is it not time for our politicians to revisit their narrative? There is no place here for moral equivalence. Nor is it sufficient for them merely to urge all sides to seek dialogue and avoid violence.
‘The ethnic cleansing must stop’
The plight of Christians in northern and central-belt states has been exacerbated by the authorities’ failure to perform their most basic duties. During my recent visit, I heard numerous reports that attacks are taking place with the Nigerian Government’s connivance – to the extent that military helicopters have been spotted dropping arms and other supplies into the areas inhabited by the Fulani.
What is more, I heard that the Nigerian Government may be aware of the location of Fulani militant training camps in the hills around Kurra Falls up to Riyom Local Council in Plateau State, but has failed to take sufficient action. The Army has reportedly ordered the confiscation of weapons from local farming communities, which residents deem necessary for self-defence against attacks, yet there is no equivalent record of disarmament of Fulani bases. Soon after the confiscation of weapons, the Fulani attack.
Such accusations are particularly serious considering that, only last year, Nigeria’s former Army Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma, warned the armed forces were not neutral. Rather, they collude with the Fulani militia. He urged villagers to defend themselves because depending on the armed forces would result in them dying one by one. To use his words: “The ethnic cleansing must stop.”
Failure of the West
Against this backdrop, it is impossible for me to understand why the UK – and indeed the governments of the United States, France, Germany and elsewhere – utterly fail to take appropriate action. Contempt for Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the right to freedom of religion or belief) has led to the targeting and murder of thousands of Christians. They are persecuted with impunity. We must not ignore their suffering any longer.
Baroness Cox is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and CEO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)