‘Benue, Plateau communities OCCUPIED by herdsmen. UK Indicts FG, Army”.
The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief yesterday, Monday, June 15, 2020, released the report of its “inquiry into the ongoing violence between farmers and herders in Nigeria”.
UK parliamentarians said that during their fact-finding mission to Nigeria, they confirmed that seven Benue communities and over 44 Plateau villages had been taken over and occupied by herdsmen. They also reported that “as at 2011during a fact-finding visit, over two dozen Christian villages had been wiped out and occupied by herdsmen in Bauchi state.”
The report indicted both the Federal Government and the Nigerian Army. Accoding to the UK parliamentarians, “The Fulani Herdsmen are perceived to collude and be condoned and coddled by the Muslim-dominated Government. The security council must change from 90% northern Muslim composition to one that reflects the rich diversity of Nigeria.” Excerpts:
Is there evidence that violence is occurring for religious reasons?
With a clear cut established historical mindset that has not lent itself to modernity or conformity to the dictates of contemporary norms of civilization and the rule of law, actions flowing from a claimed superior divine order would of necessity be religious in nature.
The Fulani killer Herdsmen are known to ululate “God is Great” (Allahu Ak bar in Arabic) as they descend on hapless communities during their attacks as recounted by survivors.
Is there evidence that violence is occurring for other reasons but manifesting along religious lines?
We have discussed the broad overarching drivers. Now we shall look at the triggers. These involve altercations between Herdsmen whose cows graze on a farm for instance which results in conflict. Although this may have been an immediate incident trigger, it is still situated within the broader jihadi context.
The Herdsmen generally feel that the lands and farms of the infidels belong to them as of right as a conquered people or simply as non-Muslims. In fact fatwas had historically shown that the express intent of leaving some pagans unconquered was so they would be available for pillaging. Most of these pagan tribes converted to Christianity subsequently.
This brings us to an anomaly. Apart from the killings in the north central and southern Nigeria which are of overwhelmingly Christian communities, killings in the northwestern Zamfara state are an exception. The victims there include Muslims.
The nuance here is that whereas all the Islamic emirates in northern Nigeria are ruled by Fulani Emirs, the Emir of Anka and chair of the traditional council declared that he was not Fulani and rejected pressure to claim Fulani ancestry. The attacks on his domain were perceived to be retaliation for his rejection of Fulanization which is a core component of the Fulani jihad model. It is in effect a modern day reprise if the conflict between Uthman Dan Fodio and the Kane’s Borno empire in the 1800s.
Is there evidence of the existence of organised, coordinated movements on either side which are attacking the other religious group for religious reasons?
In the Dogo Nahawa massacre of March 7, 2011, the only successful prosecution of killer herdsmen in recent history, we closely monitored the trials. That massacre of over 500 people clearly revealed a conspiracy and premeditated planned attacks in a surprisingly well-organized militaristic manner.
In a 2016 massacre in Eastern Nigeria, a herdsman arrested by the police described a similar level or organized recruitment of attackers from around the country to undertake that massacre.
This attack followed the February and March massacres in Agatu Benue State where Fulani herdsmen utilized speedboats and were resupplied by helicopter.
If so, have these movements occupied any territory and who is leading them?
In the Agatu massacre of 2016, our fact-finding mission came across the herdsmen occupying about 7 communities we visited. Our security escort subdued one as he tried to shoot at us. The herdsmen occupied the villages for over a month while the villagers were displaced.
In Plateau state, over 44 villages have been occupied and overtaken by Fulani herdsmen as at April last year during our fact-finding mission to Plateau State. By June another massacre that took over 200 lives including relatives of this writer led to displacement in several more communities. The number of communities currently occupied by the Fulani Herdsmen has increased to at least 60.
As at 2011during a fact-finding visit, over two dozen Christian villages had been wiped out and occupied by herdsmen in Bauchi state.
What evidence is there that attacks by members of organised criminal or terrorist groups have been attributed to groups of either herdsmen or farmers, or that they are arming/supporting herders or farmers to commit attacks?
In 2012, Boko Haram terrorists claimed responsibility for several massacres by herdsmen that claimed the lives of a Senator in Plateau State.
A significant proportion of the kidnapping for ransom in Benue, Plateau and Kaduna states is attributable to the Fulani Herdsmen. These include the kidnapping of Americans and Canadians last year and the murder of a British aid worker in a kidnapping attempt this year.
The spokesmen of the Fulanis have often claimed responsibility for massacres justifying them as reprisals for rustled cattle amongst others.
We have videos of the Fulani being armed for attacks.
Are the victims of the violence disproportionately of a particular religion? If so, why?
The victims are disproportionately Christians. The primary reason is that they are usually set upon in their villages while asleep. These are not “clashes” – they are massacres. On the other hand, the herdsmen are nomads and rarely have large settlements and villages where they reside in these Christian communities. Thus it is far easier for the herdsmen to invade Christian farming communities and slaughter them than it is for the farmers to find “villages” of nomads and attack them. The large communities of herdsmen are in the far north and not the middlebelt and so they are rarely attacked.
Secondly while the Fulanis are a homogeneous ethnic group found in several countries, their victims are disparate and therefore not as structured or organized. Unlike the Fulanis, there are no bands of farmers going around the country to attack Fulani communities. Isolated attacks on herdsmen communities in the northeast are usually reprisals.
Is there any evidence that casualties from either group are significantly underreported or over-reported?
The herdsmen claimed after the New Year’s Day massacre of over 70 Christians in Benue last year that it was because 800 cows were stolen. The exaggeration on cows allegedly stolen is obvious.
How have poor rural communities financed the acquisition of sophisticated weapons like AK-47s? Are both groups utilising these types of weapons? If not, why?
Weapons are supplied to the herdsmen by wealthy backers. Arms proliferation from the collapse of Libya has flooded the region with weapons.
What evidence is there of collusion between Government armed forces and either group?
The Government has justified, defended and distorted the atrocities. Several witnesses stated the army were involved in perpetrating massacres on behalf of the herdsmen. The Nigerian Airforce were used in air strikes against Christian farming communities defending themselves from herder attacks.
What actions or initiatives have been taken by the Nigerian Federal or State Governments, or civil society, to prevent further conflict? Have any of these actions been successful? Have any of these actions negatively impacted the violence?
The government wants to pay 100 billion naira to herdsmen which is controversial. The government has not arrested or prosecuted killer herdsmen but 5 Christian farmers were sentenced to death. The government has undermined states that passed anti-grazing laws.
What tangible, practical steps can be taken in the short and long run by the Nigerian and UK Governments, as well as the wider international community, to prevent further conflict?
There has to be an honest dialogue on the causative factors for any meaningful results to be accomplished. Education for the herdsmen is key. Ranching is essential. Technological assistance and mordenization. Deradicalization etc.
Has the spread of fake news and misinformation impacted the conflict? What tangible, practical steps can be taken to address this issue?
Yes it has. A commitment to transparency, joint-stake holder peace-building and an end to impunity.
Do religious communities in Nigeria view the conflict as being primarily religiously motivated? If so, what impact does this perception have on tensions between these communities? What steps can be taken to improve relations between communities?
There is deep suspicion and resentment within the non-Muslim community in north central and southern Nigeria because the Fulani Herdsmen are perceived to collude and be condoned and coddled by the Muslim-dominated Government. The security council must change from 90% northern Muslim composition to one that reflects the rich diversity of Nigeria.