In mid-June, the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief published its landmark report, Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? in which they expose the ongoing and unmitigated violence committed against Nigerian Christians by Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and Fulani militant herders, focusing primarily on the latter. This comprehensive 50-page report examines all aspects of the exacerbating violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and North Eastern regions, assessing topics including “resource competition,” increasingly pervasive “extremist ideology,” the presence of sophisticated weaponry, impunity and lack of accountability for perpetrators, casualty statistics, personal testimonies, misinformation campaigns, and more before presenting a detailed list of recommendations that address both the Federal Government of Nigeria as well as the broader international human rights community. One of the most startling points made in the report is as follows:
“The death toll is unknown. However, thousands of civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust report that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, ‘in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths since 2015.’ Amnesty International estimate that between January 2016 and October 2018 ‘at least 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured [and] 5,000 houses burnt down.’ Local groups, such as the Christian Association of Nigeria, report higher figures: between January and June 2018 [alone], over 6,000 people were killed by Fulani [militant] herders.”
APPG’s report does a great job of answering the question it sets forth in the title- yes, genocide is unfolding in Nigeria; yes, predominantly Christians make up the victims of escalating violence in the region; and yes, if the national government makes no moves to resolve the issue, the situation could soon reach the point of no return, leading to the more injuries, more deaths, and more devastation.
The response of the Nigerian government to this report, in contrast, is exceedingly underwhelming. According to Premium Times, Nigerian President Muhammadi Buhari has rejected the claims of genocide in the report. Buhari’s presidential aide, Garba Shehu, states “when uncritical attention is afforded to critics with dubious intentions, it only becomes harder for both the government and people of Nigeria to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve our differences, and uphold what is enshrined in our Constitution and laws: that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Not only has Mr. Shehu accused the APPG of being biased and critical in its reporting as well as impudently questioned the group’s intentions, but he has also pre-emptively placed blame on the APPG for the possible failure of future attempts of reconciliation by claiming the report could be harmful to the dialogue process.
Mr. Shehu also makes the bold claim that, in cooperation with American and British support mechanisms, the Nigerian military has been relatively successful in decreasing the terrorist activity of Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. It is true that, for a while, Boko Haram activity saw a lull as a result of Nigerian military intervention, but it is reprehensible to ignore the resurgence of Boko Haram activity in recent years. There is no shortage of news articles reporting various abductions, forced conversions, and beheadings of Nigerian citizens- often Christian- at the hands of the militant group. However, Mr. Shehu made no mention of this revival of Islamist terrorism and militancy in the power vacuum that exists as a result of inconsistent and insufficient military efforts.
Moreover, Mr. Shehu fails to mention the alarming and heinous new trend of the continuous, unmitigated, savage attacks on Christian farming communities by groups of Fulani militant herders, which remain unabated as a result of impunity and a nonexistent coordinated response by the government, and which leave hundreds of Nigerian Christian men, pregnant women, children, and elderly folk dead each month.
If the Nigerian presidency cannot publicly and straightforwardly address the growing possibility of genocide in Nigeria, and if the international community does not hold the Nigerian government accountable to its obligation to protect its own people, we can expect to watch the death rates continue to rise and the conflict continue to escalate to a point where resolution seems improbable at best, and impossible at worst.