A new report highlights Nigeria’s failed attempts, over decades, to deal with the violence perpetrated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen in one of the country’s Middle Belt states. It concludes that continued failings will force Christians to leave the area in a “religious cleansing” that is part of a drive for “the Islamic war of expansion”.
The Middle Belt region divides the largely Muslim north from the majority Christian south, and has seen persistent conflict between settled farmers, who are mostly Christian, and the mainly Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen.
‘Nigeria: Southern Kaduna and the atrocities of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen (May 2016 – September 2017) Volume 1’ by Christian charity Open Doors analyses the conflict from a historical perspective, and highlights failures of the State government to protect Christians, particularly women and children.
The report also addresses the controversies connected with the name ‘Southern Kaduna’. “The history of the area,” the report says, “is a Pandora’s Box of struggles for domination”.
Ideological factors are taken into consideration, but the report concludes that perspectives emphasising the environment, ethnicity, political contestation, population and/or economic competition “do not explain the true depth of the problem”.
The report is part of a series looking into conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. A 2017 report, also published by Open Doors, concluded that attacks on Christian communities by Fulani herdsmen was “evidence of ethnic cleansing”.
History of violence
Large-scale violence in the region dates back to 1987, when an attack by Muslims on Christian students over an alleged misinterpretation of the Quran led to the death of hundreds. Other triggers for deadly conflict, according to the report, have been the 2000 Sharia crisis following the introduction of Islamic law to northern Nigeria; the 2011 presidential elections; and land disputes with Fulani herdsmen emerging in 2016.
The government “has failed to address the situation justly and provide security for Christian majority communities,” according to the report, which accuses them of deploying soldiers – as “a first option rather than the last resort” – instead of attempting “genuine civil engagement” between the two sides. The report says that, over time, Muslims and Christians have settled into communities determined by religious affiliation, which distrust each other, with each community placing “sectarian division over and above the common interest”.
As the authorities try to deal with the conflict, the voices of the most vulnerable are “stifled and unrepresented”, it says.
Open Doors’ researchers compared the reports of the many government-commissioned inquiries set up to help bring the conflict to an end. Recommendations for heightened military presence were compromised by corruption, such as awarding lucrative security contracts to associates, or real fears that security personnel had become part of the conflict, according to the report.
Emergence of Hausa-Fulani violence
“The resurgence of violent conflict in southern Kaduna towards the end of 2016 has drawn attention to the urgent need to understand the root causes and to give voice in particular to the affected Christian communities,” says the report, which identified a lack of research into the conflict between the two sides and has attempted to address the gap by conducting a series of in-depth interviews from a “grass-roots perspective”.
For years, controversy has surrounded the name ‘Southern Kaduna’. It is either the southern part of Kaduna state, which emerged following a boundary change in 1987, or it has its roots in British colonialism, when the administration set up a new district in an attempt to keep peace between Christian and Muslim communities. The area has, as a consequence, become “a socio-political identity encapsulating the struggle against the Muslim Hausa-Fulani hegemony, particularly in reference to religion, politics and culture”, the report says.
The report details the number of Christians and Muslims killed, injured and displaced in conflicts between May 2016 and October 2017, as well as the nature of attacks. (Each victim of the conflicts is identified in a second report: ‘Nigeria: Southern Kaduna and the atrocities of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen (May 2016 – September 2017) Volume 2’.) It gives significant background to other conflicts, dating back to the 1980s. For security reasons, researchers were not able to collect data from some areas on the number of injured Muslims or the number of Muslim properties lost in the conflict.
Within the research period, 709 Christians and 16 Muslims were killed, 130 Christians were injured, and 3,459 Christians and 219 Muslims lost their properties.
Many of the attacks by the herdsmen on Christians happened at night. Men, women and children of all ages were killed. Kidnapping is common and women who were taken but later returned to their communities reported that sexual assault was widespread.
Conclusion – ‘religious cleansing’
The report notes that while analysts blame the conflict on politics, and competition over land (because of the problems of environmental degradation), they avoid talking about “the Islamic war of expansion” played out in southern Kaduna. It notes that the herdsmen are well armed compared to Christians, defending themselves with “sticks and stones”, and that any Christian caught with a weapon is arrested, while, to date, no Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen have ever been arrested.
It says political leaders “often manipulate public sentiments and encourage violence for political expediency”, and that the government favours northern Kaduna for the building of government institutions or the location of officials. Poor infrastructure in the remote villages has led to Christians being vulnerable when it is dark.
Also, the government has not provided aid to displaced southern Kaduna Christians living in camps, according to the report. Instead they rely on NGOs and churches.
The report says the government is failing to listen to Christians when it comes to forming policies. This shows bias, and will not bring an end to the conflict, says the report, which says that, if this continues, Christians will just leave the area – an example of “religious cleansing”.