The United States Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) says it has documented at least 19,890 deaths in Nigeria since June 2015, just after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015. This is as the United Kingdom-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) disclosed that Fulani militias killed 1,061 people in about 106 attacks on communities in central Nigeria in the first quarter of 2018. CSW said 11 other attacks on communities in the southern parts of the country by the militia claimed a further 21 lives.
In a related development, the UK House of Lords on Thursday expressed worry about the inability of the Buhari government to end killings in Nigeria, warning that ethno-religious violence in the country may escalate to the Rwanda type genocide if the federal government remained complacent about it. The concern followed a debate on the recent killing of about 200 people in Plateau State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The CFR, an independent body of experts dedicated to providing advice on policy options facing countries, put the cumulative deaths in Nigeria from May 2011 to May 2018 at 53,595. This statistics was obtained by THISDAY from a section of the organisation’s website, Nigeria Security Tracker (NST). According to the think tank, the NST tracks violence that is both causal and symptomatic of weakness of Nigeria’s political institutions and citizen alienation. It said the data was based on weekly surveys of Nigerian and international media and that they included violent incidents related to political, economic, and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliated groups (or conversely the state employing violence to respond to those incidents.)
CFR added, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”
In the CSW’s latest report, equally obtained by THISDAY, the organisation said, “During the first quarter of 2018 CSW documented 1,061 deaths in 106 attacks by the Fulani militia on communities in Adamawa, Benue, southern Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states, with an additional 17 lives lost in attacks in the south of the country. CSW also documented seven instances of violence targeting Fulani herders or communities in which 61 people lost their lives; two of these attacks occurred in the south of the country. The recent deaths in Plateau State bring the number of casualties recorded so far in herder militia attacks in central Nigeria in the second quarter of 2018 to 440.”
The organisation said the figures were obtained by its offices in the United Kingdom and in Nigeria using organisational records, a timeline issued by the Office of the President of the Nigerian Senate, #MiddlebeltMassacres in Twitter, news sources, and the United States-based Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker. It further noted that there was more to the violence going on in Nigeria – often referred to as “farmer-herder clashes” – than meets the eye.
The report added, “However, attacks by herder militia are currently occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry that the characterisation as ‘clashes’ no longer suffices. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK-47s and on at least one occasion, rocket launchers, the herder militia is believed to have killed more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, in what local observers increasingly describe as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing.”
CSW also said it had documented over 400 deaths in 46 attacks during the second quarter of 2018. In one of the most recent, at least 200 people were reported to have died in coordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area in Plateau State, which began on June 22 and lasted until June 24, the report said.
The majority of victims of the Barkin Ladi attacks were said to be women and children. The CSW report noted that 120 people were killed as they returned from the funeral of an elderly member of the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN).
Speaking on the violence, CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, accused the Nigerian government of refusing to fish out the perpetrators of the violence. Thomas called for the formulation of a holistic security strategy to address the violence and other threats to national security as a matter of urgency.
“CSW extends its deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones in the weekend of attacks in Plateau State. It is worrying that the authorities appear more focused on controlling victim communities than on tracing, disarming and arresting the perpetrators of this violence. We urge the state and federal governments to prioritise the protection and rehabilitation of vulnerable communities, and to refrain from victimising them further,” Thomas said.
He added, “The number of attacks and casualties is staggering, and illustrates the appallingly high price communities in central Nigeria are paying for the absence of an effective official response to a force that not only constitutes a threat to national security, but also to national unity. We urge the government to guarantee the safety, protection and right to life of all Nigerians, regardless of creed or ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, in an impassioned debate in the UK parliament on Thursday following the murder of about 200 people in Plateau State by alleged herdsmen, the House of Lords warned the Nigerian and British governments that remaining complacent about the violent attacks could plunge Nigeria into the type of genocide that happened in Rwanda. In the parliament’s Hansard obtained by THISDAY, the debate which held between 2:16pm and 3:02pm, saw various UK lawmakers expressing concerns about what they described as “ethno-religious cleansing” going on in Nigeria and the inability of Buhari to stop the carnage and hold perpetrators of the violence to account. They noted that the violence, if not de-escalated, would have far-reaching effect on the 2019 general elections.
During the debate, the lawmakers adduced reasons for the worsening violence in the country. Baroness Berridge alleged that the violence visited on farmers in the North and Middle Belt were a part of Jihadist movement. Berridge said, however, that the solution to the problem was in Nigerians’ hands, suggesting that the citizens should use the 2019 elections to demand an end to the violence.
“The 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria provide the best opportunity for Nigerians themselves to demand their government deal with this crisis… I hope Nigerians, especially Nigerian Christians, will realise that much more of the solution is in their hands than they perhaps realise,” Berridge said in her contribution to the debate.
Another member of the House of Lords, Baroness Cox, who said she had visited Nigeria “many times and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in Bauchi, Kano and Plateau states”, noted that there were concerns that “the Fulani militants are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram” with the shared agenda of driving Christians out of their homelands in the North and Middle Belt.
Cox said, “There is real fear that these developments are part of a strategy by Islamist fundamentalists to drive Christians out of their traditional homelands in northern and central-belt regions of Nigeria. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to respond appropriately to the very real possibility of religious cleansing.”
In her own contribution to the debate, Baroness Goldie said the violence could worsen and become politicised ahead of the 2019 elections, preventing elections from holding in some states.
“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. It is imperative that there is a de-escalation of violence across all affected states,” Goldie stated.
She commended Buhari’s commitment to fighting extremism, but said, “The Nigerian government has not asked for assistance from the Commonwealth or from other countries.”
Another lawmaker, Baroness Stroud, asserted that the story of worsening violence in Nigeria was indicative of successive Nigerian governments’ failure “to manage the country’s wealth, and of a deeply ingrained culture of corruption”.
Lord Alton, who led the short debate, had warned that the Rwandan genocide could repeat itself in Nigeria, saying, “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 genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could very easily be repeated.”