The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has launched a new report in London. The report was released on June 15, 2020.
The report launch, featured speeches from the Chair of the APPG, Jim Shannon MP, Co-Chair Baroness Cox, and Rebecca Sharibu, the mother of Leah Sharibu who was kidnapped by Boko Haram two years ago and has yet to be released.
APPG members have been alarmed by the dramatic and escalating violence in Nigeria characterised as the farmer- Fulani herder conflict. This violence has manifested along ideological lines, as the herders are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians.
There has been significant debate about what factors are driving and exacerbating this crisis. Therefore, the APPG launched a parliamentary inquiry to help develop a nuanced understanding of the drivers of violence and increase parliamentary, public and governmental interest in the issue. The report is the result of that inquiry.
The APPG’s inquiry found that Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence, 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. However, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust quote reliable reports that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, in addition to the estimated 6,000 plus deaths since 2015.
International Crisis Group estimate that over 300,000 people have been displaced and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with Boko Haram. Violence by herders, and periodic retaliatory violence, is costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.
The report finds that a key factor driving this violence is the impact of the growing power and influence of Islamist extremism across the Sahel, which drives some militant Fulani herders to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches. Indeed, hundreds of churches have been destroyed, including over 500 in Benue State alone. Other key factors driving this violence include climate change, desertification, resource competition, the influence of politics, criminality, the ready availability of firearms and the spread of misinformation.
Attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians. 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 and the report makes many recommendations about how this can be done.
Comments From The Chair Of The APPG:
In the Foreword to the report, Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief says, “Over my ten years as a Member of the UK Parliament, the COVID-19 crisis has surely been one of the most difficult and surreal challenges I have experienced.
Constituents have told me of their physical suffering, of job losses, and the pain of not being able to visit their loved ones. This widespread and tremendous difficulty is a somewhat novel experience for many of us in the UK but for countless Christians living in Nigeria, extreme challenges are nothing new. Shockingly for a Commonwealth country, Nigeria ranks twelfth on Open Doors World Watch List 2020 of the countries in which Christians are most persecuted. By comparison, Syria ranks eleventh and Saudi Arabia ranks thirteenth, with Iraq fifteenth and Egypt sixteenth.
One of the main drivers of this persecution in Nigeria is the militant group Boko Haram who frequently abduct and kill those who refuse to conform to their extremist brand of Islam. Unfortunately, Boko Haram are not the only threat that Nigerian Christians face. Attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians.
As Parliamentarians, I believe it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of all the survivors and victims of violence, and all those who are suffering but who cannot speak out for themselves. One such survivor is Leah Sharibu, whose mother I was honoured to meet on a recent London visit. 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. Its purpose is to explore the drivers of conflict and to highlight the seriousness of the situation and the level of injustice that Nigerian Christians face.
Among all the injustices for the UK to help correct in the near future, the widespread and growing persecution of Christians should be top of the list. Thus, as the UK faces the challenge of lockdown and mass quarantine for the first time in living memory, I ask you to please spare a thought for those Christians who face not only a pandemic but also threats of violence and persecution that we can’t imagine. The report urges the Government of Nigeria and the international community to implement its recommendations to help save the lives of Nigerian citizens and to improve their welfare.