THE United Kingdom Parliament has described recent killings by Fulani herdsmen and other violent acts in the North Central states of Nigeria as deeply disturbing urging President Muhammadu Buhari to take urgent steps to stop the carnage.
Lord Alton of Liverpool raised the Nigerian security issue at the House of Lords on Thursday drawing support from members across party lines.
The verbatim report of the debate of the Nigerian security challenges by the UK House of Lords are contained in the Parliament’s records website: hansard.parliament.uk.
A cross section of the UK lawmakers who spoke on the killings in Nigeria described the scale and the frequency of the attacks as disturbing and alarming.
Lord Alton who raised the issue, spoke on “the more than 200 people, mostly women and children, who were killed in sustained attacks on 50 villages by armed Fulani militia just this past weekend” adding that “People are dying daily.
“This alone should serve as a wake-up call. Are we to watch one of Africa’s greatest countries go the way of Sudan? Will we be indifferent as radical forces sweep across the Sahel seeking to replace diversity and difference with a monochrome ideology that will be imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply? We must not wait for a genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could easily be repeated,” Alton warned.
Another parliamentarian, Lord Suri said: “The situation has been exacerbated by inadequate government action which has enabled attacks to continue unabated. Beyond intermittent words of condemnation, the Government has failed to formulate effective strategies to address this violence. This has entrenched impunity and emboldened perpetrators even further, leading to a growth in vigilantism and periodic retaliatory violence, as communities conclude they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice. However, this retaliatory violence is by no means symmetrical—the first quarter of the year saw 106 attacks by the herder militia in central Nigeria, while seven attacks within that timeframe on Fulani herders or communities claimed 61 lives.
“The number of attacks and casualties is staggering, and our Government must recognise the considerable escalation in the regularity, scale and intensity of the attacks by Fulani militia on these communities in central Nigeria. We must commit to doing more to encourage and support the federal and state governments to provide protection to those who live in constant threat of attack by a force that constitutes a major threat to national security. As a matter of urgency, we must encourage the formulation of a comprehensive and holistic security strategy that adequately resources the security forces to address this and other sources of violence. Can the Minister provide assurances of action? Will the UK Government do all they can to work with the Government of Nigeria, encouraging them to be more proactive in ending this appalling violence and to protect these vulnerable communities living in constant fear for their lives?”
Other lawmakers spoke along the same line with Baroness Goldie summing up the debate and asking the Buhari government to halt the “deeply troubling situation.”
She said “It goes without saying that the Government regard the situation in Nigeria as both challenging and deeply disturbing. There are a number of issues at play which are having serious humanitarian consequences. The first are the actions of Boko Haram, of which many noble Lords will sadly be aware. Boko Haram claims to represent Islam, but its interpretation could not be further from the spirit of that peaceful religion. It attacks Nigerians of all faiths who do not subscribe to its extremist views. Its activity—the abduction of schoolgirls and the killings in which it has engaged—is appalling. Its actions have caused immense suffering in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in both Christian and Muslim communities. We assess that the majority of its victims are Muslim. Nearly 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Boko Haram and its splinter faction, Islamic State West Africa, remain a threat to regional security. Achieving a long-term solution requires non-military measures to improve security and enable economic growth.
“The other worrying issue to which many noble Lords referred and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly covered in his speech, is the violence between farmers and herdsmen in various areas across Nigeria, and in the Middle Belt in particular, where attacks are carried out by herders on farmers, and vice versa. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the question: does the description “farmer-herdsmen” suffice? This was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The description “farmer-herdsmen” is broadly correct, but it does not fully represent the complexity of the situation. Violence has escalated over the past year—the reasons for this are many—but we are not aware of evidence to support the view that religion is driving this conflict.
“The other worrying issue is the extent of recent attacks. In an attack by farmers on herder settlements in Mambilla Plateau in June 2017, over 800 people were killed—the majority of them women and children. We are concerned by the increasing violence in recent months. Just last weekend reprisal attacks by herdsmen on farming settlements resulted in at least 86 fatalities—it may be more than that. My noble friend Lord Suri and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, very poignantly described the horrific nature of this violence.
“As my noble friend Lady Berridge described eloquently, this is complex and it is far reaching. My noble friend Lord Ahmad noted in this House on 26 March that the causes of these clashes are complex. They relate to land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. The situation is not helped by a narrative which overplays the ethno-religious dimensions and oversimplifies a complex picture, conflating criminal violence, caused by cattle rustlers and bandits, for example, with community clashes.
“The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked where the weapons are coming from. Regrettably, one suspects there is a widespread availability of weapons; I thought that my noble friend Lady Berridge encapsulated the extent of that problem, as did the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. In reality, religious extremism or sectarianism is not a key underlying cause of this violence and it would be wrong to conflate these land and water disputes with Boko Haram’s actions.
“As Nigeria prepares for elections in 2019 there is a real risk that, without serious effort being made to stem the violence and address the root causes, the conflict between herders and farmers will worsen and become increasingly politicised, threatening peaceful solutions and elections in some states. That is why it is so important that Nigeria not only works to improve the situation in the north-east, but also works to address the causes of the violence between farmers and herders. It is imperative that there is a de-escalation of violence across all affected states. In this context, we welcome President Buhari’s recent commitment to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians and prevent the stoking of religious conflict.
“My noble friend Lady Berridge specifically asked about a ranch plan and whether the UK has been engaged with this aspect. We are aware of the Nigerian Government’s proposals for creating cattle ranches for Fulani herdsmen and we are encouraging them to respect the rights and interests of all parties in finding solutions to this conflict.
“As many, if not all, contributors have identified, all of this is causing a humanitarian crisis. In north-east Nigeria, 7.7 million people are in need of urgent, life-saving assistance and 1.8 million are displaced. This humanitarian crisis is a direct result of the fragile security situation caused by Boko Haram. My noble friend Lady Stroud spoke with authority on the levels of privation and the challenges that poses.
“Very specifically, the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Tunnicliffe, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friends Lady Stroud and Lord Suri, all raised the issue of UK action. The United Kingdom is playing a leading role in helping the Nigerian Government to address immediate humanitarian needs. We have increased our aid funding to £300 million over the next five years. We provide assistance on the basis of need, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, and in line with the international humanitarian principles. Last year our support reached more than 1 million people, including children, women and the disabled. We are also fully committed to supporting Nigeria’s efforts to tackle Boko Haram. We have provided intelligence analysis and training for the Nigerian military. With regard to farmer-herder violence, we encourage and support mediation by the state, local government and traditional authorities to defuse community tensions.
“The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry referred to education and its importance. I could not agree more. DfID programmes are supporting improvements in the quality of education and increasing access for disadvantaged boys and girls to get education, focusing on three states in the north of the country where human development outcomes are particularly poor.
“A number of contributors, not least the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud asked what the balance is between humanitarian and development programmes from that spend. As I said earlier, DfID will spend £273 million this year, balanced between shorter-term humanitarian aid and longer-term support to help the Government of Nigeria to improve basic services, and to increase levels of prosperity and standards of good governance. For example, 1.8 million people gained access to clean water and/or sanitation between 2015 and 2017 through DfID programmes and 260,000 additional women and girls are using modern methods of family planning.
“The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud also asked what assessment has been made of the UK’s capacity to provide additional assistance. I think I have covered that with my response in describing what that £273 million is intended to support.
“The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Chidgey and Lord Tunnicliffe, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, all asked what representations the Government have made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military. The military training and assistance provided by the UK for the armed forces of Nigeria have consistently emphasised the importance of adherence to internationally recognised rules of engagement as well as the importance of international human rights and international humanitarian law. All our military capacity-building support is delivered in line with HM Government Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance to mitigate the risk of human rights violations. We are concerned about Amnesty International’s report alleging sexual abuses by members of the Nigerian security services. We have made clear to the Nigerian authorities the importance of protecting civilians in conflict and detention.
“The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also asked whether this conflict and its impact were discussed when the Prime Minister met President Buhari in April. They discussed a number of issues, including security threats faced by the Nigerian people. The focus of these discussions was the conflict with Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa in north-east Nigeria and the abduction of the Chibok and Dapchi girls.
“The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also raised climate change and the argument that the conflict is being exacerbated by droughts. Climate change is having a negative effect in Nigeria, particularly in the north, where desertification is increasing. We are currently reviewing the support we are providing to help Nigeria to tackle the effects of climate change.
“A final couple of points were raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about freedom of religion and belief, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lady Stroud. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised this issue and tensions between religious communities specifically with state officials in Borno and Yobe during a visit there in May.
“The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Berridge referred to the Commonwealth. I understand that there is no involvement with the Commonwealth at the moment. The Nigerian Government have not asked for assistance from the Commonwealth or from other countries.
“It is imperative that the Nigerian Government address the violence and instability in both the north-east and the Middle Belt areas of the country. They need urgently to put in place long-term solutions that lay the foundations for a sustainable and peaceful future for all communities. The United Kingdom will continue to provide support to the Government of Nigeria in their efforts to build that future. I thank noble Lords for ensuring that this deeply troubling situation remains the subject of continuing discussion.”