Following a week in which as many as 260 people were killed in attacks by herdsmen on farmers in Nigeria’s northern region, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese in Anambra State urged the Government “to stop all forms of killing of innocent citizens in the country, including those who work on farms to produce food for our people”.
Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor warned at Mass on Sunday last week that the murderous activities of herdsmen will cause hunger by disrupting agriculture, noting that many farming communities “are now scared of going to their farms to avoid being murdered by killer herders”.
His warning came as the UK’s All-Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released a report entitled “Nigeria, Unfolding Genocide?”
Speaking at the launch of the report in the House of Commons on Wednesday last week were Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG, Co-Chair Baroness Cox, and Rebecca Sharibu, the mother of Leah Sharibu who was kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamist terrorists two years ago and has yet to be released.
The APPG launched the inquiry to better understand what was driving the violence in the farmer-herder conflict. It finds it has manifested along ideological lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians.
Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence, the inquiry found, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders resulting in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands. The exact death toll is unknown but Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust quotes reliable reports that more than 1,000 Christians were killed between January and November 2019, in addition to the estimated more than 6,000 deaths since 2015.
International Crisis Group estimate that more than 300,000 people have been displaced and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with the Boko Haram terrorists. In an estimate corroborating the warning of Bishop Ezeokafor, violence by herders, and periodic retaliatory violence, is said to be costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.
The report finds that a key factor driving the violence is the impact of the growing power and influence of Islamist extremism across the Sahel, in which militant Fulani herders target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, including more than 500 in Benue State alone.
In a damning comment on the response of the government in Abuja, the report says: “These factors are compounded by the Nigerian Government’s failure to respond adequately to the violence, to protect communities or to bring perpetrators of violence to justice. These issues need to be addressed if we are to save lives and improve the welfare of civilians.”
Writing in the foreword to the report about Leah Sharibu, whose mother was present at the launch, Jim Shannon said: “Two years ago, 14-year old Leah Sharibu was abducted by Islamist extremists from her school in Dapchi, north-east Nigeria. There are reports that she was enslaved, raped and impregnated, giving birth to a child, and that she has been denied her freedom for refusing to convert to Islam as a precondition for her release. There are thousands of Leahs held all over Nigeria, and across the world. This report is dedicated to her and the millions of others who suffer so unspeakably.”
Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK, explains why it is time to take a stand against the slaughter in northern Nigeria.