Just this past weekend, at least 200 people are reported to have died in coordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Nigeria’s Plateau state. The majority of victims were women and children. While there is now a dawn to dusk curfew, the area remains tense.
This most recent episode is particularly shocking, but such attacks have become all too common. Indeed, it is the latest in an extended pattern of violence occurring on a daily basis in Nigeria – particularly across the Middle Belt.
Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK-47s, and on at least one occasion, rocket launchers, the Fulani herder militia is believed to have murdered more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than even Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands of people
Whilst there has been a long history of disputes between nomadic Fulani herders and predominately Christian farming communities across the Sahel, recent reports show that attacks by the Fulani herder militia are now occurring with such frequency, intensity, organisation and asymmetry, that references to ‘farmer-herder clashes’ no longer suffice.Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing.
The situation has been exacerbated by an inadequate government response, which in turn has fostered impunity. Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, definitive action has not been taken to end it. There even exist abiding concerns regarding possible complicity of elements in Nigeria’s armed forces in militia attacks.
In light of this inadequate official response, communities feel they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice, leading to a growth in vigilante groups that periodically embark on retaliatory violence; such attacks have been duly documented.
The human rights advocacy organization, CSW, reports that there have been seven instances of violence targeting Fulani herders or communities in central Nigeria within the four-month timeframe, in which 61 people lost their lives. By contrast, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks on communities in central Nigeria in the first quarter of 2018, claiming 1061 lives.
Although it may not be definitive, its list of documented attacks attempts to provide as comprehensive a record as possible, in order to underline the critical need for urgent and effective intervention.
This must begin with the characterisation of the problem. The international community must recognise the considerable escalation in the regularity, intensity and sophisticated nature of violence perpetrated by armed groups in central Nigeria, alongside the stark asymmetry
Moreover, we must urge the Nigerian Government to guarantee the protection of all Nigerians, regardless of creed or ethnicity, encouraging it to take stronger and more effective measures to address violence by the Fulani Militia, alongside the continued threat posed by Boko Haram. As a matter of urgency, the Nigerian Government should formulate a comprehensive security strategy that adequately resources the security forces to address this and other sources of violence.
Finally, Federal and state governments must prioritise the unbiased enforcement of the rule of law.
Allegations of complicity in violence must be investigated urgently, perpetrators must be prosecuted, and victims of current and past episodes of terrorist and militia violence must be adequately compensated.
The number of attacks and casualties is staggering, and day in day out, communities Nigeria are paying the highest of price for the absence of an effective official response.
The purpose of Thursday’s short House of Lords debate is to encourage the Foreign Office to recognise the ever-increasing scale and severity of the violence we are seeing in Nigeria; to characterise it correctly in order to address it accordingly; and, as a matter of urgency, do all we can to stop it.
Lord Alton of Liverpool is an Independent Crossbench Peer