The United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has made far-reaching recommendations to the Federal Government on how to tackle the killing of Christians and destruction of properties, especially in the North-Central and North-East, by marauding Fulani herdsmen in the name of herder-farmers conflict.
The organisation identified itself as “a group of over 100 British Parliamentarians from different political parties and from both Houses of Parliament. It exists to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
In a 55-page report entitled, Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?, the group, chaired by Jim Shannon MP, called on government to deal with the inherent problems that lead to conflicts and senseless killing of innocent Christians by heavily armed Fulani militants. Primarily, the group called on government to address the issue of the competition for land in the North Central, implement policies that would give all parties to the conflict a sense of belonging, and ensure that justice is done.
The group called on government to, “Investigate, arrest and prosecute those suspected of committing violence as part of this conflict. The Government must ensure that the trials of individuals or organisations found to have sponsored, participated or been complicit in violence are conducted in accordance with the rule of law and without any delays.”
One of the cardinal recommendations to government is that those sacked from their villages and farm settlements should be returned to their homes. Fulani militia destroyed houses and properties in Kaduna, Benue, and Plateau States, and have occupied those lands while owners have been abandoned in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps without government support.
Below is an excerpt from the report, detailing the recommendations made to government:
“The following section will suggest some recommendations for the Nigerian Government, and other domestic and international actors, which can hopefully help ameliorate the conflict. The APPG recognises the unique and significant financial, social and political challenges that the Nigerian State faces and thus does not expect that implementing these recommendations will be easy but hopes that they will be of use to the Nigerian Government in their own plans to reduce conflict.
1. Over £2 billion of UK bilateral aid was given to Nigeria between 2011 and 2018, an equivalent of £800,000 every day. However, the APPG has some concerns over how it is spent; and how it might be better spent – especially in relation to the protection of those at risk of attack by Islamist extremists, the need to bring to justice to those responsible for any atrocities and crimes against humanity, and the promotion of community cohesion. It is our hope that this inquiry will point the UK Government towards a far more rigorous and effective use of British resources to ensure that, where money is being spent, it will tackle the plight of minorities, particularly by preventing people from religious minorities from being subjected to discrimination, persecution and even genocide.
(i) The UK Government is one of the largest donors to the World Food Programme’s emergency operation in North East Nigeria, which provides cash and food assistance to those who have been displaced. However, according to Government minister Baroness Sugg, the UK “does not currently provide humanitarian assistance in the middle belt states.” There is an urgent need for the UK and its international partners to provide humanitarian support for those displaced by the farmer-herder conflict in Middle Belt States, which is one of the worst-affected regions, including protection, shelter, food and healthcare, as well as compensation for those who have suffered losses to their livelihoods and homes. The UK must collaborate with international donors to ensure that all people affected by the violence are provided with adequate relief.
(ii) International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that over 300,000 people have been displaced as a result of the farmer-herder conflict. There is an urgent need for compensation for those who have suffered losses to their livelihoods and homes.
Research and Data Collection
2. Competing narratives about the causes of this conflict abound. In order to develop and effectively implement appropriate policy responses to the conflict, it is vital to have a better, shared understanding of the situation. There is also a need to review existing programmes and policies which impact the conflict. Therefore, the Nigerian Government should:
(i) Support domestic and international academics, NGOs and journalists, through providing funding and security, to conduct more extensive research and to collect data about attacks. Better data can help improve policy responses and help develop a shared understanding of the situation. The development of a database from which to determine patterns and early indicators of violence would also be an important step in improving security responses.
(ii) Invest in research on constitution, practice, and strategies of criminal gangs and ‘conflict entrepreneurs.’ In this research, the professionalization of herders for hire and their involvement in violent incidents should also be considered.
(iii) Review the existing structure of cattle routes and reserves. In concert with state and local governments, the federal government should conduct a comprehensive review of the existing structures providing for cattle routes and reserves to determine which aspects are working and what challenges remain to be addressed.
(iv) Review the current program on nomadic education. The federal government should partner with state and local governments to undertake a comprehensive review of the nomadic education program. The process should include extensive participation of representatives from the herder community to ensure it reflects the expectation of herders in terms of timing and the realization of the key objectives of providing quality education and training on modern herding.
The Government must ensure that the trials of individuals or organisations found to have sponsored, participated or been complicit in violence are conducted in accordance with the rule of law and without any delays.
3. In order to properly tackle the conflict, there is a need to elaborate and implement a strategy that incorporates all the complex different factors upon which the conflict is predicated. Attempts to deal with contributory factors in isolation will be limited and so holistic plans are needed. Therefore, The Nigerian Government should:
(i) Elaborate the National Livestock Transformation Plan. According to Amnesty International, “The main plan by [the Nigerian] government in relation to permanently addressing the farmers-herders clash, including the socio-economic drivers of the crisis, is the “National Livestock Transformation Plan” (NLTP), announced by the National Economic Council on 19 June 2018. The NLTP is a broad and long-term plan that seeks to solve the herders-farmers crisis as well as develop the livestock sector over a 10-year period. The plan… rests on six pillars: economic investment, conflict resolution, law and order, humanitarian relief, information, education and strategic communication and crosscutting issues.” The Government should supports states to implement this plan and ensure that it incorporates all the relevant issues highlighted in this report, such as the preponderance of fake news in Nigeria and existing ethno-religious tensions. The federal government should publicise details of the NLTP and move quickly to put the plan into effect in consenting states.
(ii) Communicate and consult with stakeholders to ensure buy-in with the NLTP. This is vital because the Government has had significant problems before with implementing similar plans due a lack of buy-in. For example, as part of the Government’s Comprehensive Livestock Development Plan, the Central Bank of Nigeria released the sum of N100 billion (nearly USD $300 million) to the 36 states for the development of grazing reserves as well as cattle routes but, according to the Muslim Public Affairs Centre Nigeria, “no state has been able to construct a ranch, reserve, or address the issue of stock route due to poor commitment to the issue.” One of the principal reasons for the rejection of such plans is the feeling among farming communities that they are attempts by the Government to take their land and grant it to herders. One source described the situation to the APPG thusly: “Christian communities see this as an extension of the 18th century Islamic jihad, which sought to take over lands and extend the Sokoto caliphate. It is felt that, rather than bringing perpetrators to justice, the Fulani are being rewarded with government resources, allowing the massacres to continue.” On the other hand, “many herders question the maintenance of vegetation in designated reserves, the ability to manage disease, and [have] security concerns about their vulnerability to attack and theft… There is also resistance to change and a history of government negligence in following through on supportive manoeuvres to develop the cattle industry.” Therefore, any attempts to implement the NLTP will have to involve extensive communication and consultations with both communities and commitment to follow up on agreements. Widespread forums on the prospect of ranching need to be completed at the local and national level, incorporating nomadic education initiatives where appropriate, in order to include the perspectives and experiences of all involved parties.
Security and Justice
4. For there to be peace in Nigeria, there must be justice. Thus, to reduce conflict, it is vital to both improve security responses and ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable. Therefore, the Nigerian Government should:
(i) Investigate, arrest and prosecute those suspected of committing violence as part of this conflict. The Government must ensure that the trials of individuals or organisations found to have sponsored, participated or been complicit in violence are conducted in accordance with the rule of law and without any delays.
(ii) Implement programmes in communities to disarm militias. This should include all militias and vigilantes, not only groups who are easier to access. The Government should also include programmes to manage the grievances of young people serving as foot soldiers in militias and provide them with psychosocial support with the aim of peaceful re-integration into their communities.
(iii) Ensure the domestication of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons into national law and ensure its full and effective implementation. The Government can also work with international partners to monitor land borders to curb the inflow of firearms.
(iv) Investigate and prosecute members of security forces suspected of perpetrating human rights abuses or failing to protect communities. It is important that an impartial arbitrator is involved in the process and that the process and findings of these investigations are transparent and public, while respecting the safety and rights of witnesses.
(v) Ensure that community leaders who encourage members of their communities to perpetrate violence are thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated. Those who are found to have actively incited violence should then be prosecuted.
(vi) Deploy more police to affected areas. Police should also invest in the improvement of local connections to help them gather better intelligence and respond more quickly to early warnings and distress calls. Police forces should include members of the affected communities to help with establishing trust between the communities and police forces.
(vii) Collaborate with the international community to improve police training and to ensure police are better equipped. Police should be equipped and trained on modern policing techniques compatible with international human rights standards, they should have clear and consistent rules of engagement for their conduct which they can be measured against, and they should be taught effective communication techniques with local communities in order to build trust and cooperation.
(viii) Collaborate with the Nigerian Army Human Rights Desk to ensure that training on human rights are mandatory parts of military training. This should include training on protecting freedom of religion or belief.
(ix) Incorporate and enforce stringent accountability measures into all areas of the security forces. As part of this, there should be specific outreach and inclusion of civil society, traditional leaders, and community members to reconcile past grievances and build trust and understanding.
(x) Give serious consideration to the establishment of state-based police, as a supplement to the National Police Service. Police require deep local knowledge, including local languages, to be effective. Pre-emptive steps would need to be taken to prevent these state police from being turned into ethnic militias, as has sometimes happened in Borno State in the struggle against Boko Haram.
(xi) Repair access roads leading into vulnerable communities for swift deployment of security forces.
(xii) Work with community leaders to communicate to the civilian population the clearly defined mandate of security forces. This should include clearly outlining the rules of engagement, what communication channels are available and how the public can report complaints and receive information about how complaints are being addressed.
(xiii) Develop open and transparent channels of communication for traditional, civil, and religious leaders to constructively engage military leaders. Developing means for community leaders to express their concerns and grievances and offer useful information will help build trust and make responses to conflict more effective.
(xiv) Invest in inter-agency collaboration between security actors. This should include members of the military and the police and will help avoid agencies operating at cross-purposes and ensure complementarity and coordination.
5. As the conflict between farmers and herders is, at its core, a dispute over resources, appropriate resource management is vital to reducing the violence. Therefore, the Nigerian Government should:
(i) Implement the NLTP. Supporting States to deliver the NLTP is critical. If even one State successfully implements the plan and reduces conflict, this will encourage other States to follow suit. Thus far there has been little progress in its implementation, but three States have gone through the first stage of the plan which principally revolves around data collection.
(ii) Ensure that areas designated as grazing reserves, corridors and cattle routes are not encroached upon. This can include appointing and stationing people at or close to the reserves to make it easy to monitor and manage these areas and prevent encroachment by farmers.
(iii) Reinvest in nomadic education programmes. According to FFARN, The National Commission for Nomadic Education’s programme was “aimed at providing functional and relevant education that will facilitate integrating the nomads into the national life and equipping them to make favourable contributions to the nation’s socio–economic development… It was also designed to help the pastoralists modernize their techniques of rearing cattle to maximize their economic potential, including dairy processing and marketing, animal vaccinations, and modern herding techniques.” The programme currently suffers from a significant lack of Government funding.
(iv) Invest into the Cattle Supply Chain. In particular, investment is needed for organised and structured transportation arrangements for either livestock or fresh meat in the local markets. According to SfCG, “it is more lucrative to walk a cow from North to South to sell in the southern market, than it is to slaughter the cow in the North and ship it to the South. Investments in slaughterhouses, refrigerated trucking and railcars, and surrounding livelihood, such as tanneries, can help to mitigate the number of southward migrations. At the same time, it can help in job and infrastructure creation, expansion of distribution networks, and fulfil a demand for high-quality beef and leather goods.”
(v) Collaborate with the international community to provide adequate funding for the Great Green Wall Initiative. According to SfCG, “in response to the economic, political, and security challenges posed by climate variability and environmental degradation, the African Union introduced the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI) in 2007. The GGWI set out to create 8,000km (nearly 5,000 miles) of trees along the southern Sahel, accompanied by rural development and ecosystem management initiatives, to combat the encroaching desertification of the Sahara Desert. In 2013, the Nigerian government answered the call by establishing the Great Green Wall Agency (GGWA)… The purpose of the GGWA is to create a green shelter-belt (wind-breaking trees), in the front-line states of Borno, Katsina, Kebbi, and Zamfara, to protect the northern part of the country against desert encroachment.” Funding is necessary to make sure the GGWA is successful. The GGWA should also expand its mandate to include desertification and climate-affected states such as Kaduna, Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau as part of the geographic scope for the implementation of the initiative.”
(vi) Invest in Green Energy and Reforestation. Environmental degradation needs to be addressed to help reduce the flow of herders south from the Sahel. One of the greatest sources of desertification in the north is using timber for fire and fuel. The introduction of innovations such as solar power or gas stoves can begin to lessen the impact on the environment.
(vii) Work with the international community to provide targeted food and income support together with livestock and crop insurance to smooth losses due to climate change. The World Bank has already launched a series of initiatives to support pastoralists in the Sahel – the Regional Sahel Pastoralism Support Project, the Regional Investment Program for Livestock and Pastoral Development in Coastal Countries, and the initiative for Pastoralism and Stability in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Such programmes need to appropriately resourced.
(viii) Develop and Invest in Nigeria’s Domestic Cattle Supply Chain. Local breeds of cattle are not commercially viable for ranching, as they produce very little milk and poor-quality beef. Local breeds would need to be systematically cross bred with foreign breeds for large-scale ranching to be successful.
(ix) Reform and freeze enforcement of state anti-grazing legislation. As mentioned previously, anti-grazing legislation in Benue state had a very negative impact on violence. The Benue state government should freeze enforcement of its law banning open grazing, as Taraba state has already done. . States should then consult with herders and farmers to find a way to manage resources amicably considering grievances and concerns on both sides.
Peace building and Reconciliation
6. The breakdown of traditional dispute settlement mechanisms is one of the main reasons conflict between herders and farmers has turned from disagreement to violence. Therefore, a process of reconciliation between groups, to open dialogue and de-escalate tensions back to peaceful disagreement is crucial. Attempts to reduce conflict without sufficient regard to this process, as well as the long lasting and heightened ethnic and religious tensions that exist within Nigeria, will be significantly limited. Thankfully, the evidence shows that peace building and reconciliation programmes that do consider these issues have had a positive impact on conflict levels. Therefore, the Nigerian Government should:
(i) Foster dialogue between herders and farmers. This should be done by strengthening mechanisms already existing at state and local levels. Institutions for reconciliation should be embedded into as many facets of Nigerian society, and at as many levels, as possible. This is crucial because dialogue between communities and religious groups does take place in Nigeria, but usually at a very high level. It is vital that that these discussions incorporate everyday people, particularly women and young people who are rarely included in talks. Moreover, talks should also revolve around specific issues in order to see better results e.g. working with religious leaders to agree herding routes in communities. However, such reconciliation mechanisms should not replace justice, but work in parallel with aid courts.
(ii) Work closely with religious leaders to promote interreligious dialogue and reconciliation. Religious identity tensions are an important factor in the conflict and must be addressed if there is to be peace. Religious leaders can play an important role in influencing their communities to engage in dialogue and reconciliation processes and therefore can play a vital role in reducing violence.
(iii) Work with NGOs to provide technical and financial assistance to traditional and community leaders in order to strengthen their mediation and non-violent conflict management skills. Since traditional and community leaders are often the first line of support called upon in times of violence, equipping them with conflict management skills can help de-escalate conflicts when they emerge.
(iv) Work with NGOs to provide capacity development for farmer and herder associations. This can help these groups to play a more positive role in the reconciliation process.
(v) Bring religious, traditional and community Leaders together to address misconceptions and create a shared understanding of conflict.
(vi) Incorporate traditional leaders into decision-making and dispute handling roles. This is important as traditional rulers hold considerable influence among members of their tribes, in many cases even more than local government authorities.
(vii) Work with communal leaders to denounce violence unequivocally and step up support for local dialogue.
(viii) Identify and support NGOs who are successfully running reconciliation programmes. Helping to scale-up programmes which have already proven to be successful can be an effective way to peace-build while lowering the risk associated with starting new initiatives. A good example of this is the Peace Accord signed in Adamawa Sate in December 2019, which was the result of the work of a local NGO, the British Council and farmer and herder leaders.
(ix) Collaborate with state and local governments, NGOs and Communal Leaders to build up alternatives to military responses to conflict which utilise dialogue and mediation as de-escalation techniques with the conflicting parties.
Media and Misinformation/False Information
7. Linked to improving research and data collection, improving the standard of investigation and reporting by media actors is vital to improving the public and the international community’s understanding of the conflict. Moreover, for communities to accept policy responses, there must be a shared understanding of what are the causes of the problem. Therefore, the Nigerian Government should:
(i) Collaborate with major news media outlets to provide investigative, as well as conflict sensitivity training for media professionals and other influential communicators such as Government Public Relations Officers. It is also important to reinforce the importance of journalistic standards, ethics and codes of conduct.
(ii) Encourage collaboration between media outlets, academics and NGOs to help communicate data about the conflict to the public. Often those researching the conflict or working with affected communities do not have the capacity to communicate accurate data about the conflict to the wider public and this helps create an environment in which misinformation can thrive. The Government can use its influence to help convene actors to convey accurate data to the public.
(iii) Review the Nigeria Press Council Act with a view to changing its name and expanding its mandate. It should be called “the Nigeria Media Council” with its mandate expanded to cover traditional, electronic and social media.
(iv) Enforce the Cybercrimes Act and other hate speech laws. Nigeria should use its existing legislation to challenge those who incite violence towards other communities online, but this should not be utilised to stifle legitimate free speech. The Government should work with human rights experts and the international community to determine what speech is considered incitement to violence in line with international human rights standards.
(v) Encourage Social Media Companies to introduce, and publicly announce, new steps to counter the spread of misinformation in Nigeria. Steps could include employing more fact checkers and restricting the number of times messages and videos can be forwarded automatically. Other possible actions include making sure that the original source and dates of photos must be stamped on all photos shared through social media.
(vi) Encourage construction of positive and balanced narratives through TV and other mass media. Long-term support should be provided for creative writers in Nollywood, Kannywood, and radio and television to create new narratives showing how interaction between various ethnic and religious groups can be peaceful and mutually beneficial.
8. Education that promotes human rights for all and respect for the other is key to long-term peace in Nigeria. Therefore, the Government should:
(i) Collaborate with Local and State Governments, Community Leaders, Schools and NGOs to provide education that promotes religious coexistence and respect for the other. To maintain peace in the long run, there is a need to cultivate more resilient societies in which people understand how interaction between various ethnic and religious groups can be peaceful and mutually beneficial. Therefore, education which promotes the value of the other and the dignity of difference is crucial.
(ii) Collaborate with Local and State Governments, Community Leaders, Schools and NGOs to provide basic media literacy education to communities. People must be made aware about the preponderance of misinformation in Nigeria, and how they can be unintentionally exacerbating conflict through sharing videos and posts.
(iii) Collaborate with Local and State Governments, Community Leaders, Schools and NGOs to provide citizenship classes. These classes can be used to promote nation building and the sense of a collective Nigerian identity over ethnic, religious or other divisions.
(iv) Develop a College of Leadership. Developing a dedicated educational institution where potential leaders from many different ethnic, religious and other backgrounds can interact daily and improve their leadership skills and relationships can help to improve leadership capacity in the long run in Nigeria and to reduce tensions between communities.
The UK and the International Community
9. Her Majesty’s Government and the International Community also have a vital role to play in preventing violence, not only for Nigeria’s benefit, but for the benefit of the entire region. Therefore, the international community should:
(i) Recognise that the conflict is complex and multi-faceted.
(ii) Develop an international consortium to conduct independent research into the conflict. Donors should fund NGOs, academics and other investigators to carry out research to improve understanding of the conflict. This is vital to developing appropriate policy responses.
(iii) Encourage the Nigerian Government, bilaterally and multilaterally, to implement the NLTP and offer financial, technical and capacity building support to implement the recommendations of this report. Representatives from the British Government and International Community should use all avenues available to continually encourage the Nigerian Government to take more decisive action to address the violence. They should also assess the above recommendations to determine where they can offer support, e.g. with training for security personnel.
(iv) Provide financial support and capacity building training for State Governments to help them better manage resources and conflict and to implement the recommendations of this report. This could include training and exchange programs for governors, senior civil servants, and members of state assemblies.
(v) Provide support for people displaced by the violence. Funding is desperately needed to provide adequate relief for the many survivors of farmer-herder violence.
(vi) Encourage the Nigerian Government and Nigerian Parliamentarians, bilaterally and multilaterally, to actively engage with the Middle Belt. For example, there should be regular presidential visits to the region.
(vii) Demand full investigation of cases of military complicity in violence and human rights abuses. This is key to establishing trust between communities and security forces but also to maintaining respect for human rights.
(viii) Identify NGOs who are running effective reconciliation programmes and provide them with funding and capacity building. Helping to scale-up programmes which have already proven to be successful can be an effective way to peace-build while lowering the risk associated with starting new initiatives.
(ix) Provide international officials working in Nigeria with training in religious literacy and freedom of religion or belief. This training should be more than simply teaching officials about religions. It should also endow officials with a deep understanding of how religion affects politics and conflict and what steps they can take to promote freedom of religion or belief.
(x) Hold an extraordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government to deliberate on the farmers-herders clashes in the region, including Nigeria. The aim of this session should be to find a meaningful and durable solution the problem by supporting accountability mechanisms to ensure suspected perpetrators are brought to justice.
(xi) Support civil society organizations to monitor and document all cases of human rights violations against the civilian population. Efforts should be made to ensure that the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission and other relevant institutions, both national and international, take appropriate steps to ensure compliance to International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law by the military while conducting internal security operations.
(xii) International actors at the African Union (AU), and United Nations (UN), should negotiate and agree upon actions to address root causes of environmental degradation and desertification across the region.
Author: Theophilus Abbah
I’m a journalist, writer, researcher and trainer. I hold a PhD in English Language with specialization in Forensic Linguistics – Language and Law.
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