Fourth installment of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group report on violence in Nigeria
1. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with a population of over 200 million people . It is a major political and economic force in both West Africa and the continent. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognises a wide range of fundamental rights including the right to life, right to human dignity and right to freedom of conscience and religion. Nigeria is also committed to protect these rights through international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. Nigeria is a deeply complex society divided along many tribal, political, linguistic, ethnic, geographical and class lines. There are also significant tensions between the country’s two major religious groups: Islam and Christianity, which represent 53.5% and 45.9% of the population respectively (although these figures are often contested in Nigeria). The country is geographically divided. The population of the Northern States is majority Muslim and the population of the Southern States is majority Christian.
3. The escalating inter-communal violence across the country’s Middle Belt involves predominantly Muslim, ethnic Fulani nomadic herders and predominantly Christian, settled farming communities. This report uses the terms farmer and herder to denote these groups for ease of understanding, but recognises that this classification is an oversimplification, that not all farmers are Christian, much as not all herders are Muslim, and that these groups are internally very diverse.
4. According to Search for Common Ground (SfCG): “The Fulani are the primary pastoralist group in Africa and have roots in West Africa as far back as 900 A.D. The largest Fulani populations reside in Nigeria, where they make up a considerable portion of the population, with over 18 million people and 270 clans. For centuries, Fulani herders have lived in relative harmony with settled farming communities. These two groups have historically benefited from symbiotic partnerships to keep cropland fertile and cattle well nourished. Herders seasonally migrated their cattle in search of lush grass, available water sources, and profitable markets for their cattle, often near villages and farms. In turn, the cattle provided critical dung fertilizer that nourished the soil for crop production, leading to high yields. Farmers and herders both benefitted in the exchange of grain for dairy and crop residue for manure.”
5. Despite this symbiotic relationship, land disputes would often arise. Leaders of the competing groups would generally resolve these disputes peacefully through established arbitration mechanisms, which compensated losses and shared resources. In their 2018 report on the issue, Amnesty International interviewed people from both herder and farming communities who corroborated this view of farmer-herder relations. They spoke about the “harmonious relationship” they had enjoyed in the past and how conflicts had generally been resolved amicably.
6. Unfortunately, this relationship has deteriorated rapidly resulting in widespread violence. Amnesty International reported that they “documented 312 incidents of attacks and reprisal attacks in 22 states and Abuja between January 2016 and October 2018. As a result of these attacks, Amnesty International estimates that at least 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured, 5,000 houses burnt down, and 182,530 people displaced.” International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that over 300,000 people have been displaced.
7. According to ICG: “The conflict has evolved from spontaneous reactions to provocations and now to deadlier planned attacks.” Despite the scale of the violence, the conflict is much less well known internationally than the Boko Haram insurgency. This is the case even though the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with Boko Haram and its geographical footprint is larger, with conflict manifesting in more States. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which was analysed by SfCG, “between 1 January 2019 and 1 January 2020, inter-communal violence represented the most severe threat to civilian lives in Nigeria. Thirty of Nigeria’s 36 states (83%) and FCT (Federal Capital Territory) experienced fatal inter-communal attacks in 2019.
8. Violence involving farmers and herders has had many other devastating impacts. Mercy Corps presented to the APPG Inquiry the findings of their 2015 study which found that the violence characterised as the farmer-herder conflict is costing the Nigerian economy $10.5 billion per year. The study found that affected states have lost up to 47% in tax revenue and that, in 2018, Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states’, food production decreased by 33-66%. The study also found that if conflict were prevented, households would see revenues increase by up to 200%.
9. Thus, the violence has exacerbated poverty and food shortages. Survivors of violence have also had to grapple with many other issues such as loss of family members, homes and livelihoods, as well as life-changing and disabling injuries and displacement, often with no adequate provision of humanitarian support for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). They also suffer vulnerability to human trafficking, lack of access to education and health services, and the trauma and other mental health challenges often associated with surviving extreme violence. The conflict has also led to disenfranchisement for those who can no longer vote in their local areas and has exacerbated societal division along religious, ethnic and geographical lines, making future conflict more likely.
10. Thus far the Nigerian Government’s attempts to resolve the conflict have been ineffective and there seems to be no end in sight. The long-term consequences of failure to reduce the violence are severe. There is the enormous cost in terms of human lives but there is also the potential for economic collapse, famine, further mass displacement of civilians and even more conflict, as the two major religious groups in the country become increasingly polarised.
WHAT IS CAUSING THE VIOLENCE?
11. To discover what factors are contributing to the violence, the APPG heard testimony from Nigerian and international experts during several formal oral evidence sessions held in the UK Houses of Parliament. The APPG also held several smaller meetings and received written submissions from a wide range of different organisations and individuals. This evidence was bolstered with data from news articles and reports on the issue by think tanks, academics and NGOs, as well as information from a UK Government-initiated conference on the issue at Wilton Park in February 2020.
12. Nigeria is a large, complex country whose people are not split into monolithic communities. There are varied actors in distinct regions. For this reason, what drives violence in one area may not necessarily be what is driving violence in another. Moreover, many farming and herding communities in Nigeria are still living peacefully. However, while acknowledging this complexity and variance, the APPG’s investigation demonstrates that there are several prominent factors that contribute to the herder-farmer violence.
Increased Competition for Resources
13. Numerous academics and non-governmental organisations (such as Amnesty International, International Crisis Group, the Institute of Economics and Peace, Search for Common Ground), UN bodies (the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation ), and the British and Nigerian Governments identified competition for resources as a principal cause of violence involving farmers and herders in Nigeria.
14. Mercy Corps, the UK Government via then Minister for State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin MP, and Dr. Oliver Owen of Oxford University gave evidence to the APPG that the age-old conflict between nomadic herders and farmers in Nigeria has been exacerbated by factors such as rapid population growth, climate change and desertification. These factors have decreased the water available for land and grazing and put pressure on resources. As herders take their cattle further south to graze, they come into conflict with local farmers, who accuse the herders of encroaching onto their land and damaging their crops. The Archbishop of Canterbury echoed this view, arguing that climate change and insecurity had pushed herders South in pursuit of increasingly limited resources and into greater conflict with settled farming communities. In the absence of appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms, these conflicts often turn violent and trigger cycles of reprisal attacks.
15. An article from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting describing climate change’s impact on violence in the Sahel outlines some of the environmental challenges facing the region: “The United Nations estimates that roughly 80% of the Sahel’s farmland is degraded…But the land available to pastoralists is shrinking… Declining grain and food production is forcing pastoralists into a desperate search for fertile pasture.”
16. This worrying picture was supported by the evidence of SfCG who note that in Nigeria desertification is worsening, with the Sahara Desert “advancing southwards at a rate of nearly half a mile per year, resulting in desertification of almost one-fifth of the total Nigerian land area.” They also note that this situation is worsened by Nigerian deforestation practices which have led to nearly half the native tree population being lost between 2000 and 2010 alone.
17. The Archbishop of Canterbury pointed to the disappearing surface area of Lake Chad as a factor putting more pressure on resources. According to SfCG, “Over 30 million people in the four surrounding countries are dependent on Lake Chad for water. However, the surface area of Lake Chad has decreased from 15,500 square miles to 840 square miles from 1963 to 2001 – a decrease of nearly 95 percent… Nigeria’s government officials have documented the shrinkage of more than 800 bodies of water as a contributing cause of violence”.
18. This dramatic change in environmental conditions has coincided with dramatic population growth, thereby limiting resources even further. According to SfCG: “Nigeria’s population nearly doubled between 1990 and 2015, from 95 million to 182 million. Population growth is expected to continue to be high, with population estimates of 440 million by 2050.” This increased population has led to increased demand for food and the expansion of farmland, thereby reducing areas for grazing even further: “From 1990 to 2014, the area harvested increased by nearly 97 percent, from 8.4 million acres to 247 million acres in 2014.”
19. Encroachment onto grazing land has also put pressure on resources. Amnesty International visited Adamawa State where they found that “farmlands, schools, petrol stations and other structures have been erected in several places along the 500-kilometre grazing route that extends from Toungo local government area to Limankara on the border with Cameroon. People using this route were often seen herding cattle around these structures, even sometimes coming onto the expressway. This increase in farming and other large-scale developmental activities… have resulted in growing encroachment on what used to be grazing routes or reserves.” Poor management of resources, urban growth, encroachment and land grabbing by elites has been a key factor in increasing the pressure on resources in Nigeria.
20. Insecurity in the North of Nigeria has also contributed to the southward migration of herders.
The Abuja Policy Dialogue Series noted that the Boko Haram insurgency has meant that
“important grazing areas and water sources became at once closed off to pastoralists. Grazing lands in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe and Bauchi became inaccessible to nomads and their livestock.”
21. This combination of poor resource management, climate change, population growth and insecurity has led to enormous pressure on resources. This pressure has forced herders to drive their cattle to wherever water and grass are available which, in many cases, has been the land of settled farming communities resulting in increasing conflict.
Breakdown of traditional mediation mechanisms
22. Historically, village chiefs and herder leaders have kept the peace, mediating between parties and coming to mutually accepted decisions which were kept by sending anyone who defied them to face local authorities. The increased conflict has strained the capacity of these leaders to reduce tensions and amicably resolve conflict. This has led to the breakdown of historical dispute settlement mechanisms and in turn, facilitated conflict turning to violence. Moreover, many herders have been pushed further and further South into areas, which historically did not have large herder populations and which therefore never developed effective customary means of regulating land use between farmers and herders. According to Dr. Adam Higazi of the University of Amsterdam and Dr. Oliver Owen of Oxford University, “In many such places, in the South, incoming herders have come into conflict not only with farmers but also local cattle-rearers (including established Fulani communities in the South who have been there for half a century or more and are well integrated).”
23. The importance of inter-communal mediation in promoting trust and reducing conflict is illustrated by the success that peace-building endeavours in Nigeria have had in reducing tensions and violence. Many of these endeavours have been led by non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and replicate aspects of traditional dispute settlement mechanisms. According to SfCG, Nigerian-based organizations and agencies such as the Inter-Faith Mediation Centre (IMC), Justice Development and Peace Caritas, and Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) have all had some degree of success using mediation to foster harmony, rebuild trust and stop violence in several communities in the Middle Belt.
24. Mercy Corps presented to the APPG the results of their successful four-year peace-building programme in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. This programme, which was evaluated through a randomised control trial, resulted in significant increases around trust, security and perceptions of security. The impact of this intervention was found to be even larger when compared with the communities who didn’t receive the intervention and who were shown to have had significant decreases in trust over the same time period.
25. These examples, and many more like them, demonstrate the importance of non-violent dispute settlement mechanisms to preventing conflict. The fact that many of these are now being run by NGOs highlights the vacuum created by the breakdown of traditional mechanisms and the need for the Nigerian Federal and State Governments to encourage mediation between communities at all levels. As stated by Miranda Hurst of Mercy Corps in her evidence to the APPG, “donor funded programmes can only go so far if the Nigerian government itself is not actively promoting peace”.
26. Another factor contributing to escalating violence is growing criminality, which drives herders South, increases tensions between communities and directly causes violence and deaths. According to FFARN: “Groups of armed bandits exist in many of Nigeria’s rural areas, particularly in the North West and the Middle Belt of Nigeria. Rural communities across Northern Nigeria, including the Fulani herdsmen and farming communities of diverse ethnic and religious identities, have lost their livelihoods to village raids, cattle rustling and kidnapping.” Human Rights Watch report that bandit attacks resulted in the death of “at least 400 people and displaced over 38,000 in 2018” and that the Northern State of Zamfara was perhaps the State most affected. This violence increases insecurity in the North and adds to the pressure driving herders South.
27. More research is needed to determine the ethnic and religious makeup of criminal groups but Dr. Momale of FFARN told the APPG that there are many cases where people have misattributed attacks by bandits to Fulani herders. Herder groups have also made this claim. Former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, ret. Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, submitted to the APPG that, “villages routinely attribute attacks to the other religion/ethnicity/user of land while avoiding identifying the attackers as bandits.”
28. Fulani herders have engaged in criminality and have also been victims of criminality, having been targeted by bandits and cattle rustlers.96 SfCG report that this growth of criminality and cattle rustling has coincided with the skyrocketing price of cattle which means, “imported cattle breeds can be sold for an average cost of 430,000 to 525,000 Naira (USD $1300-1700) and local cattle can be sold for an average price between 100,000 to 200,000 Naira (USD $300650).” The high prices for cattle have attracted more sophisticated, better resourced actors into the industry such as, “local political elites, retired military officers, and other wealthy individuals [who] will purchase or receive cattle and then hire pastoralists to manage the cows for them. In many cases, these are cattle-less Fulani who are given their own cattle in repayment for herding another’s cows. These hired herders are then responsible for protecting the cattle from theft, injury, and disease and are oftentimes armed by their bosses for these purposes.”
29. Similarly, high cattle prices have attracted more sophisticated, organised and better armed criminals who seek to profit from the increasing monetary value of cattle, and instability in rural areas. As described by SfCG: ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ are taking advantage of the Boko Haram violence in the Northeast and general insecurity in Nigeria to engage in widespread ‘rural banditry.’ These gangs of criminals instigate fear and violence to raid communities for livestock and plunder. They often attack during the middle of the night and create chaos, burning homes and shooting guns in the air, to cause people to flee and more effectively manoeuvre cattle out of the community.”
30. This criminality exacerbates the farmer-herder conflict by increasing tensions between religious groups. It also forces herders to migrate further to escape bandits, increasing the likelihood that they will come into conflict with farmers over grazing areas and other resources. SfCG report that bandits often pursue migrating herders, stealing their livestock and raiding local communities. This adds to the feeling of these communities that they are facing a violent, northern Muslim invasion. This violent criminal behaviour also begets further violent criminal behaviour, as people displaced from their communities and robbed of their livelihoods are more likely to become criminals themselves in order to survive. Supporting this view, Okoli and Lenshie state that “crops of herdsmen displaced by conflict and climatic adversities…have taken to guerrilla criminality”.
31. In the evidence analysed by the APPG, there was consensus that the Nigerian Government’s response to conflict involving farmers and herders has been inadequate or ineffective and that this has allowed violence to emerge and escalate. There is the belief that the lack of political will or capacity to address conflict is one of the main drivers of violence.
32. Successive Nigerian Governments have been accused of adding to the pressure on resources by developing infrastructure on lands previously used for grazing and failing to maintain grazing reserves. For example, “A reserve in Wase Local Government Area (LGA)…was designated specifically for grazing. However, various dams and irregular rainfall drained the water resources and dried up the grass. The government had agreed to periodically fumigate against a large infestation of tsetse flies, but neglected this over time, creating an inhospitable environment for herding.”
33. Another example of how Government intervention to try and manage resources has exacerbated conflict is the introduction of anti-grazing legislation. ICG reported that one of the primary reasons for the escalation of violence in Nigeria in 2018 was “the introduction in November 2017 of anti-grazing laws vehemently opposed by herders in Benue and Taraba states, and the resultant exodus of herders and cattle, largely into neighbouring Nasarawa and, to a lesser degree, Adamawa, sparking clashes with farmers in those states.” Some commentators point out that significant violence involving farmers and herders had been taking place in these states prior to the introduction of the anti-grazing laws, so they cannot be claimed as root causes for the violence.106 But this does not change the fact that violence in these States seems to have increased in response to the Governmental intervention. Recognition of this does not absolve those who committed violence of responsibility for their actions. It is, however, necessary to understand the context in which violent conflict has emerged in these States.
34. The Nigerian Government has also been accused of compounding its inability to effectively manage resources by being unable to protect communities from violence or to prosecute those who commit violence. ICG argue that the main reason for the dramatic escalation in violence is the failure of the federal government to prosecute past perpetrators or heed early warnings of impending attacks.
35. There are many reports of survivors of violence informing authorities about impending attacks and/or about the identity of attackers and yet no arrests being made. According to Amnesty International, “Eye witnesses, victims, local officials and others independently interviewed have recounted several incidents where police and soldiers have either ignored credible warnings of impending attacks and/or abandoned people during or just before deadly attacks by heavily armed groups, suspected to be members of herder or farmer communities.” For example, in December 2017, 50 policemen were deployed to Dong district in Adamawa in response to rumours that an attack by Fulani herders was impending. The policemen arrived but eventually left the area three days before the attack took place. It seems that these and many other attacks could have been prevented if security agencies had responded appropriately.
36. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice censured the inadequacy of the Nigerian Government’s efforts to protect citizens and investigate acts of violence involving farmers and herders on Tuesday 26 February 2019. The court ordered the Nigerian Government to investigate mass killings and destruction of properties committed by Fulani herders in the Agatu Community in Benue State in 2016. The court stated that the Government “is obliged to protect the human rights of its citizens” and ordered the Government to identify and prosecute the perpetrators and redress the victims.
37. The insecurity that local communities face, and the impunity that those who engage in violence have thus far enjoyed, has led to groups of farmers and herders forming militias. These are usually formed along ethno-religious lines to protect community interests, as they conclude that if they don’t, no one will. This thought process was expressed clearly by former Army Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, Lt General Theophilus Danjuma, who called on Christians in his home state of Taraba to stop depending on government security forces and to take up arms to protect themselves. He argued that the armed forces were, “not neutral; they collude” in the, “ethnic cleansing in … riverine states” by Fulani militia and insisted that villagers must defend themselves because, “depending on the armed forces”, will result in them dying, “one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop.”
38. ICG note that ethnic groups in Nigeria do not publicly admit to having organised militia but that many farming communities reportedly “formed militias and vigilante groups to fend off Fulani herders whose cattle grazed in their fields… [and] others attacked herders in retaliation for alleged damage to farms or to force the “strangers” out of their domains”. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which was analysed by SfCG, 36 different political, ethnic, or communal “militias” were involved in inter-communal violence in 2019 resulting in the loss of over 1,000 civilian lives.
39. These militias, who are often backed by ethnic, political and religious leaders, have been forming in much greater numbers recently and have also been engaging in increasingly premeditated attacks. In the case of the Fulani, militia are now also utilising sophisticated weapons such as AK 47s. In fact, some Fulani militias are now so well armed that one army General in Adamawa claimed that troops had to use rocket-propelled grenades in order to prevent them from attacking Bachama villages. In addition to attacks being increasingly premeditated, ICG noted that militia violence increasingly takes the form of “scorched-earth campaigns that kill scores, raze villages and burn down farms.”
40. According to Dr Adam Higazi and Dr. Oliver Owen, Nigerian “Police have sometimes intervened early to resolve disputes before they become lethal, and in some places (Ekiti for example) farmers and herders are happy to mediate their disputes at the police station. But in other places, the police have been risk-averse and they have not been active in getting involved in enforcing peaceful settlement. “ Of course, Nigeria is a vast country and there are significant capacity constraints on the security forces’ ability to deal with militias and to provide security. These constrains cannot be dismissed by outsiders. Therefore, we should not underestimate the challenge facing the Nigerian Government and its security forces.
41. Limited resources have severely restrained the ability of security agencies to take control of the violence in Nigeria. Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, told the APPG that the, “police presence throughout the [middle belt]—indeed, throughout the entire country— is weak. Nation-wide, the police numbers [are] only about 350,000, and are poorly trained and poorly paid. The number stationed in the Middle Belt is small. Security—always limited—is provided by the Nigerian army, which has units stationed in every Middle Belt state. But, the army, too, is stretched thin, often poorly trained and poorly paid. Police and military salaries can be in arrears for weeks or months. In effect, the writ of the Federal and state governments does not run across large areas of the Middle Belt. They are ungoverned spaces.”
42. The Nigerian Government has made deployments of security personnel to try to respond to violence but according to ICG, “The personnel are still inadequate to secure many areas, and units are ill equipped to respond speedily to distress calls from remote villages. Some police units deployed in rural areas are operating cautiously, mindful that officers have been ambushed and killed. In many areas, the forces deployed are inadequate to deter heavily armed militias who attack villages at night and retreat to their forest camps before dawn.”
43. While these restraints are significant and undermine capacity to bring peace, limited resources cannot explain the many reported instances where security forces have been themselves responsible for attacks against communities. For example, Amnesty International reported a visit to Kwesati Village in Ussa LGA of Taraba State in May 2018, “where several residents told the organisation about the brutal harassment by soldiers they’d had to endure, including breaking into their homes in the middle of the nights to harass and threaten and beat them.” Such attacks naturally increase feelings of persecution among communities, making them less likely to cooperate with security forces and more likely to take up arms to protect themselves. This, combined with slow communications from President Buhari, has also led to perceptions by victimised communities that the Federal Government has no will to address the issue.
44. Positive Examples where local Government and security forces have been proactive and managed to reduce conflict do exist. According to Dr Adam Higazi and Dr. Oliver Owen, “Gombe State remains one of the more peaceful states in Nigeria with generally good relations between farmers and Fulani herders, including in religiously mixed areas. Key to this is political will, good communications, police professionalism, and early involvement before conflict escalates. This shows that the key factor in whether these pressures become conflicts or not is goodwill and genuine interest in rural governance on the part of State and Federal Government. With that, and with foresight, [resource] pressures can be managed. Without that, actors are increasingly going to rely on self-defence and violence.”
45. Thus, the Nigerian Government’s general inability or unwillingness to effectively manage resources, or to offer security or justice to the communities subjected to violence, is one of the key drivers of the escalating violence as it has led to increased competition and the rise of ethno-religious militias.
Flow of Weapons
46. Evidence analysed by the APPG suggests that the ready availability and low price of firearms has also played a role in escalating violence. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave evidence to the APPG that ongoing instability in Libya has led to a huge increase in the number of firearms flowing into Nigeria. According to Adam Higazi and Oliver Owen, “guns are sourced via ordinary criminal networks, in which arms obtained in post-conflict zones such as Libya are imported and traded in known underground markets in the Niger Delta and South-East.”128 Combined with the huge supply of weapons left over from civil wars in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, as well as the domestic Nigerian arms manufacturing industry , this means that firearms are readily available in Nigeria and have halved in price in recent years. While obviously not causing conflict in itself, this preponderance of readily available weapons has played a role in exacerbating violence in Nigeria.
47. Another factor that is widely considered to have exacerbated the conflict between farmers and herders is the spread of misinformation via media or social media. Dr. Oliver Owen noted that stories, and even footage, of violence from other African countries are often incorrectly attributed to farmers or herders in Nigeria. This has led to heightened tensions, violent reprisals and an environment in which peace building is increasingly difficult.
48. Stephanie Hegarty of the BBC shared with the APPG a recent investigation by BBC Africa Eye. This investigation highlighted how false stories and videos about Christians or Muslims are circulated widely and rapidly on social media in Nigeria and that this often leads to violence. One example from the investigation was a photo of a child killed by a head wound in Brazzaville Congo. This violence was attributed to Nigerian Fulani. This led to a group of 11 Fulani being killed by a group of young Berom men: “Some were set alight. Others were hacked to death with machetes. Days later, their bodies were still being discovered across the city, dumped in ditches, behind houses and along the roadsides. Many were burnt beyond recognition.” The violence was directly attributed to the photo, “As soon as we saw those images, we wanted to just strangle any Fulani man standing next to us,” one Berom youth leader told the BBC.
49. Bulama Bukarti from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change told the APPG that misinformation about the situation in Nigeria is are often spread through social media. Echoing the content of the BBC Africa report, Bukarti also discussed how false stories can stoke anger and conflict. He showed a photo that was circulated widely throughout Nigeria of a woman being trained by Fulani to kill Christians with an AK-47. However, when he investigated the photo, he found it to be taken from a video of a woman in Sudan with no connection to the conflict in Nigeria. He then showed several other photos that had been mis-attributed to Fulani violence.
50. Ilia Djadi, formerly of the Christian news organisation World Watch Monitor, claimed that the capacity for videos and photos to spread across Nigeria in days opens doors to all manner of manipulation of data or facts. He described a situation where most users are not aware of the impact of what they are sharing. However, he also mentioned that there are those who are fully aware of what they are doing and who intentionally spread misinformation through social media with the aim of manipulating others and causing conflict. The BBC highlighted once such person, a man named Idris Ahmed, who has been known to spread incendiary statements on Facebook such as describing the entire Berom ethnic group as terrorists, or about military complicity in the killing of Fulani men.
51. Facebook and other social media companies have not responded vigorously enough to the problem of hate speech and misinformation on Nigeria social media. According to the BBC, “Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners in Nigeria have committed just four full-time fact checkers to review false information, on a platform used by 24 million Nigerians…more worrying still is that none of the four fact-checkers deployed full-time by Facebook’s partners in Nigeria speaks Hausa, a language spoken by millions in the country.”
History and Religious Identity
52. History changes the way people interpret current events. Mervin Crawford Young, the American Political Scientist and scholar of African politics, is reported to have said that in a “highly polarized environment, members of cultural communities continually scan the horizon for signs of threats, and… the best way they comprehend these threats is by association with similar historical experiences.” To some extent, historical conflict along religious identity lines between Fulani Muslims and Christian groups has impacted how people see current events and has exacerbated violence.
53. In the beginning of the 19th Century, the Sokoto Caliphate was established under Uthman dan Fodio amidst violent raids, the enslavement of many non-Muslims from smaller tribes and the annexation of land for Fulani pastoral clans. When the British conquered the Caliphate in 1903, it was the world’s largest slave polity, with Fulani leaders preying on smaller tribes to feed the slave trade for a century. As these smaller tribes abandoned their traditional religions during the colonial period, they turned to Christianity and held on to the memory of the violence they experienced.
54. This memory and the fear associated with it combines with contemporary events, such as the adoption of Shari’a law by 12 Northern States in 1999, to create a tense, divided society in which actions by Fulani or Muslims are sometimes seen as a resurgence or continuation of historical violence and imperialism. One study of the conflict examined by the APPG acknowledges that. “socio-economic factors drive the [farmer-herder] conflict” but also claims that there is an extra dimension to the violence and that “the attacks can be seen as a continuation of jihad seeking an Islamic state throughout Nigeria”. Fulani groups have also claimed that violence against them is part of an agenda to subjugate or destroy their people. According to ICG, “The Fulani youth group, JAFUYAN, said killings of Fulani in Numan were ‘the latest in a coordinated agenda to wipe out our people systematically through ethnic cleansing.’”
55. Fr Bature of the Forum on Farmer and Herder Relations in Nigeria (FFARN) submitted to the APPG that, “crop damages from herds, many of which are led by the predominantly Muslim Fulani herders, that may have seen as an accidental act…are now perceived as deliberate and provocative acts against farmers, many of whom are Christian. This narrative has triggered the reactions of farming communities to see Fulani herdsmen as both competitors for natural resources and part of an agenda to annihilate their way of life.” This impact of religious identity was similarly described by the former Attorney General of Nasarawa State, Suleiman Nchi who said, “The parties in a conflict may be carrying or expressing different religious identities. A simple argument between a Fulani-herdsman and a farmer from a community that is predominantly Christian over land, for example, may take on the tenor of a sectarian crisis since the Fulani herdsman is almost always a Muslim.”
56. The APPG received evidence from several sources which helps to explain how the historical and religious context in Nigeria impacts perceptions of violence and heightens conflict. One prominent Nigerian Christian Leader submitted to the APPG that “Every religious cleric, whether they are Muslims or Christians, in the local communities will immediately attribute the conflict to religion. This is because there are many audio and videotapes on the social media and being played on CDs in markets in northern Nigeria, of Muslim clerics attacking, insulting, and denigrating the bible, Christians, and the person of Jesus. There are Christians who see all that is happening as an Islamic expansionist agenda.” This statement demonstrates how in a highly polarised, insecure environment, actions may be interpreted through the lens of religious identity and historical conflict. This tendency to view disputes as part of an existential battle between religious groups, and the fears and anger and stereotypes that groups have about the other based on these long histories of conflict, makes it much more likely that people will be willing to engage in violent conflict and has significant ramifications on prospects for peacebuilding.
57. Political actors working to further their own interests have also intentionally deepened these historical, religious-identity based divisions. The Archbishop of Canterbury told the APPG that in Nigeria “It is easier, and often more effective, to blame the challenges people face on another religious identity group than to explain and tackle the complicated cocktail of political, economic, social and environmental factors that are at the root of their problems. The politicisation of difference between groups often leads to conflict in Nigeria, where there is an ongoing trend of violence between ethnic and religious groups increasing in the run up to elections.”
58. Dr Momale submitted to the APPG that, “In Nigeria, there is a concept of ‘indigeneity’ or the land-based origins of one’s belonging to a particular area of Nigeria. Certain groups are considered ‘indigenes’ of an area and are afforded certain rights for that status. The Fulani are considered ‘settlers’ in the Middle Belt, which excludes them from certain rights and privileges enjoyed by indigenes of the same communities. While the debate over indigeneity is not new, politicians and others often manipulate these divisions for their own benefit. This was repeatedly witnessed in Plateau State. For instance, in June 2018 groups of thugs were hired in the city of Jos by local politicians to incite clashes based on ethnic, religious, and political identities.” Politicians can then appeal to their identity group as the only ones who can protect them from other tribal, religious, ethnic groups and guarantee their resources.
59. Given this evidence, the APPG was not surprised – though deeply troubled – to hear claims that there was an escalation in conflict in 2018, considering that there were national elections in February 2019. These claims are supported by the data collected by the Council on Foreign Relations which shows that deaths due to violence in Nigeria over the past three years peaked in January 2019 and, despite an increase in the month of January 2020, have been generally declining after the national elections. This supports the view shared by CSW that, “The mutation of the limited traditional conflict into an existential threat to the nation can be attributed, to some extent, to competition for political advantage.”
The below case study by Search for Common Ground illustrates the complexity of violence involving farmers and herders and demonstrates how history, politics and religious identity can interact with competition over resources to exacerbate conflict:
“In Jos North, the capital city of Plateau state, the population consists of predominantly Christian Berom, Anaguta, and Afizere ethnic groups…considered to be ‘indigenes’ of Jos, and the predominantly Muslim Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, considered to be ‘settlers’ or ‘nonindigenes.’ A status of ‘indigene’ provides certain privileges and access to political, economic, and communal resources. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ‘indigene’ and ‘non-indigene’ tensions escalated, partially triggered by the creation of Jos North Local Government Area… As [groups] struggled for political influence and leadership roles within the local government, indigeneship became a political tool to attract and solidify support. Because the ‘settlers’ are almost entirely Muslim and the ‘indigenes’ are predominantly Christian, the manipulation of these identities increasingly played out through ethno-religious discrimination, segregation, hate crimes, and inter-communal violence. Widespread riots and outbreaks of violence resulted in over 1,000 deaths in 2001. As the conflict in Jos North took on a predominantly religious character, the violence spread outside of the urban areas to more rural areas of Plateau and neighbouring states. Fulani communities generally lived outside of more urban areas; however, as the violence expanded from the city centre, more rural Christian communities saw the Fulani as an ‘Islamic threat.’ Herdsmen increasingly became victims of cattle theft and personal attacks, including targeted attacks on Ardos [leaders] of various Fulani tribes. Reprisal attacks from afflicted members of the Fulani community followed this initial outbreak of violence. Revenge attacks continued and became cyclical exacting victims from both groups.
During and after the 2008 elections, contested local government chairmanship elections incited rioting and clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs in Jos North. At least 400 people were killed and over 10,000 people displaced and another round of reprisal attacks was triggered.”
60. Thus, history and religious identity and political manipulation of these factors, play an important role in violence involving farmers and herders in Nigeria. Historical divisions along religious identity lines influence how the situation is interpreted and make people more likely to respond with violence.
As [groups] struggled for political influence and leadership roles within the local government, indigeneship became a political tool to attract and solidify support. Because the ‘settlers’ are almost entirely Muslim and the ‘indigenes’ are predominantly Christian, the manipulation of these identities increasingly played out through ethno-religious discrimination, segregation, hate crimes, and inter-communal violence.
61. The escalation of violence in Nigeria must be seen in the context of the growing power and influence of Islamist extremism across the Sahel. Multiple groups, such as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram and an affiliate of the faded Daesh caliphate in Iraq and Syria, continue to extend their networks in Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Burkina Faso. According to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai
Mohammed, Boko Haram and ISWAP have “changed their strategy” in recent months. “They
have started targeting Christians and Christian villages for a specific reason, which is to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos… This [does] not in any way signify that they have stopped attacking Muslims. But they seem to now have a deliberate policy of attacking Christians.”
62. On 26 December 2019, ISWAP released a video claiming to show the beheading of 10 Christian hostages and one Muslim in Borno State. Analysts agree that it was timed to coincide with Christmas celebrations. On 20 January 2020, the Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram executed the chair of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State, Reverend Lawan Andimi.
63. Several submissions to the APPG inquiry conflated ISWAP, Boko Haram and Fulani herders without evidence to connect the groups and their actions beyond their shared religious identity. Others described the Fulani, a group of millions of people with hundreds of clans and many different lineages spread across the huge geographic terrain of Nigeria and the Sahel, as one homogenous group – a tendency which is not exclusive to Nigeria.
64. It is necessary to avoid conflating these groups, not least because Fulani herders in the North who do not adhere to Islamist ideology have been victims of Boko Haram. According to Dr Adam Higazi and Dr Oliver Owen, “Well over 1,500 pastoralists have been killed by Boko Haram in Borno State alone and tens of thousands of cattle and sheep have been stolen by the insurgents during the conflict.”
65. Notwithstanding these important distinctions, the APPG received evidence to suggest many Fulani herders in Nigeria do adhere to an extremist ideology. They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity. As the Bishop of Truro concluded in his report for the FCO, “the religious dimension is a significantly exacerbating factor” in clashes between farmers and herders and “targeted violence against Christian communities in the context of worship suggests that religion plays a key part.”
66. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust have visited some of the worst-affected areas many times, reporting in 2019 that “growing numbers of Fulani have adopted a new land-grabbing policy – motivated by an extremist belief system and equipped with sophisticated weaponry – which
has led to the massacre of thousands of people and to the permanent displacement of vulnerable rural communities. While tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic herders have existed for centuries, recent attacks suggest a worrying trend: the Fulani’s military capability and ideological fervour are increasing.”
67. CSW identified that “Fulani militia are targeting non-Muslim communities, particularly Christians. They’re attacking entire communities that are the most isolated and when individuals are at their most vulnerable, including men and women working in their fields. The death toll is mounting.”
68. Aid to the Church in Need UK drew similar conclusions: “While not necessarily sharing Boko Haram’s vision of a Muslim caliphate in northern Nigeria, the evidence suggests the Fulani herdsmen are as committed as Daesh (ISIS) affiliates to eliminating Christians in a region where the Church has grown fast.”
69. The Nigerian organisation Stefanos Foundation submitted to the APPG that “the violence is primarily for Islamic territorial expansion and the advancement of Sharia (Islamic law).” They argue that “the perpetrators of the violence are Muslim extremists who cannot submit to any other law apart from Islamic law.”
70. Similarly, the Hosere Citizens Rights Initiative stated that attacks against Fulani herders in Mambilla “could not by any stretch of imagination be termed as farmer/herder crisis…It was in fact a well-planned, coordinated and executed genocide.”
Such an assessment was reflected by the Nigerian House of Representatives, which on 4 July 2018 declared killings by herders in Plateau State to be a genocide.
71. Revd Hassan John told the APPG, “The drivers of the violence in Nigeria may be complex but generally speaking Nigerians are deeply religious… So, while there are social, political and economic drivers, the average Nigerian sees all these from their religious perspective first… Christians and Muslims… see this conflict as one religious group’s fight to dominate and, if possible, exterminate the other.”
72. Likewise the former Attorney General of Nasarawa State, said: “A simple argument between a Fulani-herdsman and a farmer from a community that is predominantly Christian over land, for example, may take on the tenor of a sectarian crisis since the Fulani herdsman is almost always a Muslim.” Such division heightens tension and makes it more likely that people will be willing to arm themselves or engage in violence and has significant ramifications on prospects for peacebuilding.
73. In a situation as variable and widespread, featuring so many disaggregated actors, and about which there is still a concerning lack of data, the APPG cannot make definitive judgements about the motivations of every group or individual. The drivers of the farmer-herder clashes are complex and need to be addressed if the violence is to be curbed. Religious ideology nevertheless has an important impact. Failure to acknowledge this or to overlook the underlying tensions between religious groups will only serve to limit attempts to reduce violence.
74. The exact death toll is unknown. However, thousands of civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence. The APPG received numerous reports that Christian pastors and community heads are specifically targeted. Preceding acts of atrocity and/or during many of the attacks, Fulani herders are reported by survivors to have shouted ‘Allah u Akbar’, ‘destroy the infidels’ and ‘wipe out the infidels’.
75. Many survivors of attacks described the Fulani as dressed in “black uniforms”, “black masks”, “black robes” or “military attire”. Amnesty international’s investigation revealed that “People from both farmer and herder communities gave identical descriptions of those who attacked their communities, except for the weapons used.”
According to reports from Adamawa State: “It is a religious war (…) when they are coming they are shouting ‘Allah u
Akbar’; they have an Islamic flag and they want to take the land as their own.”
76. Dr Obadiah Mailafia, former deputy Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank and recent Nigerian presidential candidate, told the APPG that Fulani herders are using classic principles of Islamic warfare in attacks. He claimed, “the herdsmen militias seem to have complete mastery of the classic weapons of Islamic warfare…They maim and kill men, women and children indiscriminately and in the most gruesome manner imaginable. The idea is that the victims get so frustrated that they would sue for peace — under any terms.” He asserted this “savagery” demonstrates that the violence is being motivated by Islamic ideology.
77. Others submitted evidence to the APPG that before most attacks by Fulani herders, messages are sent to warn the communities of the impending attack. The response received by the APPG was that the content of the messages would usually be “we have attacked (such and such a
village) and you or your village will be next” or they would be threats such as “your land or your blood”. It has been asserted that such warning signals are part of the rules of engagement in an Islamic jihad and thus reveal that these attacks are motivated by religious ideology.
“the herdsmen militias seem to have complete mastery of the classic weapons of Islamic warfare…They maim and kill men, women and children indiscriminately and in the most gruesome manner imaginable. The idea is that the victims get so frustrated that they would sue for peace — under any terms.”
Sophisticated Weaponry, Planning and Timing of Attacks
78. Attacks by militias in this conflict have become increasingly well planned, coordinated and brutal. Fulani herder militias have also utilised sophisticated weaponry such as “machine guns and Mark 4 and AK-type rifles”, as well as vehicles, such as motorcycles. Farmer militias who have attacked herding communities are typically reported as arriving on foot and being armed with less sophisticated weaponry, such as “cutlasses, spears, bows and arrows, and sometimes Dane guns”. It has been argued that this evolution in tactics, as well as the access to superior weaponry, suggests a connection between Fulani herder militias and jihadist groups like Boko Haram. A presentation by Bolaji Omitola from Osun State University which was sent to the APPG asserted that “Recent Operational strategy and tactics of Boko Haram suggest infiltration of the rank and file of the herdsmen by Boko Haram operatives [e.g.] Use of Hilux Jeeps, and motorcycles, setting homes ablaze and shooting of escaping villagers, the use of AK 47 weapons and other assorted weapons.”
79. This evidence, however, is far from conclusive and there are other explanations for the change in the nature of the violence and the varying access to sophisticated weaponry. Firstly, the significant increase in the price of cattle, combined with the threat of cattle rustling, has incentivised wealthy owners of cattle herds to equip Fulani herders with sophisticated tools to protect their interests. As a result, Okoli and Lenshie write that, “Nowadays, it is common to see Fulani cowboys brazenly armed with sophisticated weapons, such as AK-47s, in the course of their routine grazing.”
80. Moreover, even when Fulani own their herds, the high price of cattle and the low price of guns, means that Fulani are better equipped to sell cows to purchase sophisticated weaponry and
vehicles through the black market than farming communities for whom the purchase of such weapons would require them to sell a prohibitive amount of their crop yields.
81. There is also the issue, discussed in more detail in the earlier section on criminality, that attacks by well-resourced gangs of bandits are sometimes ascribed to Fulani herders. There are also reports of marginalised Fulani youth being armed by political leaders to cause unrest in the run up to elections. Thus, there are many other reasons why Fulani herders may sometimes be equipped with superior weapons and vehicles.
82. Both farmer and herder groups have organised militias to fight for their interests, attacked at times when targets were most vulnerable, used disguises, coordinated attacks, burned homes and buildings, and committed mass killings. For example, according to Amnesty International, “On 20 November 2017…armed men suspected to be of the Bachama tribe, attacked Shelewol, a Fulani village in Numan LGA, when most of the men were away and killed at least 80 people, majority of whom were women and children”. It is reasonable to expect – though deeply troubling – that in an environment of increasing competition, growing violence, and narratives about ethnic cleansing or religious wars, groups would become more violent and attempt to equip themselves better and to plan their attacks better.
Asymmetrical Casualty Figures
83. The Institute for Economics and Peace published figures in their Global Terrorism Index that so-called “Fulani extremists” are responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram since 2015. However, due to the lack of reliable data about the conflict, exact casualty figures are unavailable. Both Muslim and Christian organisations are reported to have claimed that victims come disproportionately from their community.
84. The bulk of the reports presented to the APPG argue that there have been significantly more Christian casualties. CSW for example, “documented 106 attacks on communities in central Nigeria during the first quarter of 2018 alone, which claimed 1061 lives, with seven attacks targeting Fulani herders or communities within the same timeframe, two of them in the south, claiming 61 lives.”
85. Better data collection is required to determine accurately the casualty figures. However, all the available evidence suggests that farming communities have suffered significantly more
casualties than herders. The asymmetry is stark and must be acknowledged by commentators and policy makers in their characterisation and narrative of this violence.
Attacks on Places of Worship
86. According to the Christian Association of Nigeria, 500 churches have been destroyed in Benue State since 2011, one of the States worst hit by the conflict. In Taraba State, more than 100 churches were destroyed by Fulani herders in 2014 and over 200 abandoned out of fear of further attacks. Approximately 65% of local churches in Wukari were burnt and the entire population displaced.
87. According to Article 8(2)(b)(ix) and (e)(iv) of the Rome Statute to the ICC, “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes… provided they are not military objectives” constitutes a war crime. This is also clearly recognised in the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia stating that: “seizure of, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science.”
Government Failures to Address Violence in the Middle Belt
88. Several academics, NGOs, and international organisations told the APPG that the Nigerian government has failed to 1) protect the communities in the Middle Belt from acts of violence; 2) investigate the crimes adequately or at all; and 3) prosecute the perpetrators.
89. Failure to Investigate: World Watch Monitor have recorded cases where attacks against Christians have been investigated and found that casualty figures have been much higher than official reports. Similarly, the Hosere Citizen’s Rights Initiative accused Christian political figures of doing the same, saying that “when the list of persons killed in Mambilla was published in the newspapers showing about 800 casualties, the state Government denied it, saying not more than 18 people were killed.” Amnesty International investigated this attack and verified at least 141 deaths (though they could not reach certain areas to investigate because of poor roads and insecurity).
90. Failure to protect: One source submitted that the Nigerian army “is aware of the location of Fulani training camps in the hills around Kurra Falls up to Riyom Local councils but has failed to take sufficient action.” Others noted concerns such as security personnel taking too long to arrive to farming communities that are under attack, confiscating weapons from those communities and not engaging attackers when they actually do arrive on time to scenes of violence.”
Amnesty International reported that, “In responding to the attacks [by Fulani herders] on villages under Numan and Demsa local government areas of Adamawa State on 4 December 2017, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) deployed an Alpha jet and an EC 135 attack helicopter. Rather than solve the problem, the Air Force only compounded it, as 35 of the 86 victims died from the NAF’s rocket fire”. The air force was accused of targeting the villagers rather than Fulani.
The air force denied the claim, although some did admit to ICG that villages had been hit in error. Such attacks and mistreatment by security forces are deeply concerning.
91. Villagers in Taraba State and in the North of the country have accused military helicopters of dropping supplies into areas inhabited by Fulani tribes who then attack villages. Many of these allegations have not been investigated at all. The APPG agrees with Amnesty International’s conclusion that cases of failure to protect communities and direct military harassment or violence, combined with an unwillingness to instigate legitimate investigations into allegations of wrong doing, “demonstrate, at least, wilful negligence; at worst, complicity” on the behalf of some in the Nigerian security forces.
92. The failure to protect the communities is further exacerbated by the fact that Christians feel discriminated against and unable to seek redress. For example, President Buhari stated publicly that it is “a political reality” that the constituencies where he received 97 percent of his votes [all located in the north] cannot be treated the same as those who gave him only 5 percent [southeast and south-south]. He has also made the significant majority of his
political appointments Northern Muslims and visited sites of bandit attacks in the North West but not sites of farmer-herder violence in the Middle Belt.
93. The APPG agrees with the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria who submitted evidence that appointing Muslims to the vast majority of prominent positions in the federal security apparatus during the insurgency of Boko Haram and violence in the Middle Belt could potentially contravene section 14(3) of the Nigerian Constitution: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
94. The APPG recognises that it is the responsibility of the Government to pursue the welfare of all its citizens equally and to do everything that it can to protect the human rights of all and to promote social harmony, rather than prioritising its political base at the cost of more division and conflict.
95. Failure to Prosecute: The inability of the Nigerian Federal and State Governments to protect farmers, and the apparent lack of political will to respond adequately to warnings and to bring perpetrators of violence to justice, is clearly very serious and requires investigation. It has also fostered feelings of victimisation and persecution.
Reporting by Local and International Actors
96. Several people told the APPG that reporting about farmer-herder violence is biased or problematic and that this has an impact on the conflict. Others told the APPG that problematic mass media reporting exists due to a lack of resources to verify information, an over reliance on second hand reports and limited access to both sides, resulting in what are two-way conflicts, or more than two-way, being represented as one-way violence by herders against farmers.
97. The difficulty for media in reporting on the conflict was also raised by Ilia Djadi, formerly of Christian news organisation World Watch Monitor, who said that the complexity makes instances of violence difficult to unpack and to report on accurately. Stephanie Hegarty of the BBC agreed, saying that some media organisations do not have the time or the resources
to engage with the issues comprehensively, including international media who she described as having a very limited presence in Nigeria.
Expanding on this point about the difficulty for media outlets in reporting on the crisis, Dr Momale of FFARN argued that the media generally reports on large cases of violence but rarely has the capacity to investigate the reciprocal smaller scale violence.
Supporting this point, Stephanie Hegarty told the APPG that while in Nigeria, she managed to visit three incidents of violence between farmers and herders to investigate their root causes. In all three cases, what she found was that what initiated the large-scale violence was competition over resources which escalated due to a series of smaller provocations.
Ilia Djadi also raised concerns about the prevalence of websites and institutions who make claims about the situation without regard to facts or media reporting ethics. The Abuja Policy Dialogue Series also raised this issue describing “the coverage and reportage of the recent conflicts in the media [as] sensational, unprofessional and unethical.”
98. Beyond these logistical problems, there are some who claim that the media is intentionally biased. For example, the African Studies Centre and the French Institute for Research in Africa argue that “the fear of jihad and a Muslim invasion of the South sell well in Nigerian and International media”.
There are others who argue that the media is biased due to the influence of the Government who want to underplay violence or to attribute it to resource competition so as to not heighten tensions between religious groups. There are others who say media reporting is biased against Fulani herders, as they are a marginalised community who are often portrayed negatively. The characterisation of Fulani as a marginalised group was challenged by several sources during the course of the APPG inquiry due to the prominence of Fulani elites in Nigerian society. For example, both political candidates in the 2019 elections were of Fulani origin.
In response to this claim, Bulama Bukarti of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argued that all Fulani cannot be simply described as one group and that there is a huge difference between wealthy Fulani elites and poor, nomadic Fulani pastoralists.
99. It is beyond the scope of this inquiry to determine whether the Nigerian and international media is biased against Christians or Fulani. However, over the course of the inquiry, the APPG did come across comparatively few local or international news stories reflecting the Fulani herder perspective or describing attacks against them and it was more difficult for the APPG to get evidence from Fulani organisations and representatives.
Evidence was predominantly submitted by Christian organisations or affiliates with connections to Christian organisations in Nigeria. Of course, this connection does not mean that the evidence presented by these organisations is incorrect or that reporting is biased, nor is it a criticism of those organisations, who should be praised for championing the rights of their communities, collecting evidence and raising awareness about their suffering.
It does, however, suggest the possibility for one-sided understandings of the situation to emerge. An example of this is the reporting around the 2019 decision of the ECOWAS Court of Justice to order the Nigerian Government to investigate the 2016 mass killings and destruction of properties by Fulani Herders in the Agatu Community in Benue State. This ruling was widely reported internationally by Christian sources who claimed that the Court rejected the characterisation of the wider conflict as communal clashes between farmers and herders. Many argued that the decision proves that the violence in the farmer-herder conflict is one-sided against Christians, with some even suggesting the ruling legitimises descriptions of herder attacks as ethno-religious cleansing.
However, this is not a complete characterisation of the court’s ruling. The applicants argued that their community had been attacked by some Fulani herders and that the Nigerian Government had failed in its duty to protect them. The Nigerian Government, in its defence, claimed that because the attacks were based on communal or tribal/ethnic clashes between the Agatu community and the Fulani community over farming and rearing of animals, the Government could not be held responsible. The court rejected this defence, not because it was untrue but because it was irrelevant legally.
100. The court ruled:
“Having been established by admission by the Respondent [The Nigerian Government] that lives were lost and properties destroyed, the Respondent ipso facto admits the violation of its obligation under Articles 1, 2, 4 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as claimed.
“Furthermore, there is no evidence of the effort by the Respondent to promptly arrest the crisis and nip it in the bud or evidence that it carried out prompt investigation to identify the perpetrators, prosecute them and redress the victim. By virtue of Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right, to which the Respondent is a signatory, the Respondent is under the obligation to recognise the rights enshrined in the charter and adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them. In other words, the Respondent is obliged to protect the human rights of its citizens, in the instant case, the Agatu communities as guaranteed under the African Charter and prevent their violations even by private actors.”
101. Thus, once it was established that there had been attacks against the Agatu community causing deaths and the destruction of property, and no attempts to bring perpetrators to justice, the Nigerian Government was responsible for failing to protect them under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The court ruled based on the pertinent legal facts of the case. It did not rule on whether the term ‘clashes’ was appropriate to describe farmer-herder violence. Nor did it make any ruling in support or rejection of other claims made by the applicants, such as the assertion that the conflict between farmers and herders “has escalated to an invasion and occupation agenda amounting to terrorism” or that “the Fulani herdsmen then took advantage of [Buhari’s] position as President to wreak havoc on the people of Benue State without being apprehended.”
102. Investigators and commentators must not shy away from describing conflicts as being motivated by religious sectarianism when that is the case. The significance of religious ideological factors should not be diminished nor denied, but those same actors must take into consideration all possible causes and evidence. These actors have the power, and the responsibility, to consider all the available evidence and to report on the conflict in a measured way that promotes peace building.