For the past decade, reports of widespread violence in Nigeria have often been attributed to one of the most notorious terrorist groups in the world: Boko Haram. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2017 report, interventions from the Multinational Joint Task Force have seen an 80% fall in the number of deaths caused by Boko Haram in 2016. Despite this progress, another group known as the Fulani extremists has risen to instill terror across Nigeria. Reports from The Guardian, Amnesty International, The Telegraph, CNN, and others have detailed the killings at the hands of the Fulani over the years. Although the exact number is unknown, reports have estimated the Fulani are responsible for killing thousands to date, with 717 deaths in the last two years alone. So who are the Fulani? Who are they murdering, and why? Perhaps most importantly – is this a genocide, and what is being done to stop these killings?
Who are the Fulani:
The Fulani are a group of predominantly Muslim nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria. As an ethnic group of 20 million people, they live in West and Central Africa and account for close to 90% of the region’s herders. As with any group associated with the word extremist, it should be stressed here that only a small subset of these herders is responsible for the attacks across Nigeria. As the Fulani are a nomadic group, control over land and a wealth of resources are an essential component of their daily lives. However, a lack of resources and issues over land control and desertification in Nigeria have exasperated the conflict between these nomadic herders (Muslim Fulani’s) and sedentary farmers (Christian farmers). This conflict has been further escalated by religious splits. When looking at the region, Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the East/South are seen as Christian. The middle, commonly referred to as the “Middle Belt”, is regarded as religiously diverse; an area which has suffered the most in recent widespread attacks.
What’s happening in Nigeria right now?
From 2012 – 2016, Fulani killings of Christians accounted for over 2,500 deaths. Since then, those killings have risen to an incredulous 6,000 deaths with the Middle Belt being at the center of these attacks. While there was an increase in violence from roughly 2013 onward, it was further aggravated after a controversial law was passed in 2017 which banned open grazing by herders in an attempt to quell Fulani violence. Rather than halting attacks, it has been a catalyst for increasing them. A detailed timeline of these attacks can be found here, but include:
- January 2018: 80 people killed and 80,000 forced to flee in a spate of violence, particularly in Makurdi, Benue’s capital.
- April 24: around 30 Fulani herdsmen stormed a church during mass and massacred nearly 22 people in Benue state (Middle Belt).
- June 25: 238 Christians were killed in a number of attacks by militia in Plateau State.
As it stands, Fulani extremists in the Middle Belt have undertaken more attacks and are responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram were in 2016.
The Nigerian government has been slow to put any real preventative measures in place to halt these killings. President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the murders thus far, but this has done little to actually stop the violence. This is no doubt a complicated situation and the Nigerian government are still trying to cope with the decades long mass displacement and killing sprees of Boko Haram. However, the government needs to step up and provide aid to the now displaced Christians living in temporary camps. Further security measures need to be put in place to try to protect those at risk and deter violence. The situation has also received condemnation from prominent international figures. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has warned that the violence is a major security threat, which risks escalating into terrorist attacks. UN Secretary General António Guterres has also expressed concern over the killing of innocent Nigerians. In a statement released this past June after a number of killings in the region, the Secretary General said he:
“urges all concerned governments, regional organizations, civil society and other relevant actors to work together to find acceptable and lasting solutions to these conflicts, in full compliance with existing regional regulatory frameworks and international humanitarian and human rights law.”
Is this genocide?:
While the above-mentioned responses have highlighted the shock and condemnation of the international community, the Fulani attacks on Christians have not yet been classified as genocide. There is no doubt that the killing of innocents is heinous regardless of the circumstances and these attacks could certainly be classed as mass murders, if not even ethnic cleansing. Using the term genocide, however, carries serious consequences. It requires a response from the international community if the sovereign country in question cannot, or will not, take preventative measures. It calls for humanitarian interventions which often require military force to stop the killings. Article 2 of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” such as
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
Two arguments could be made here. On the one hand, it is not yet clear whether the Fulani’s intent is to wipe out Christians from Nigeria altogether, to bring about their very destruction; as opposed to wanting to seize land and killing anyone who gets in their way. If this is the case, it would not be classified as a genocide, but rather mass murder. On the other hand, the Fulani can clearly be accused of violating this Convention, as they continue to brutally murder entire villages of a specific religious group and cause them grievous bodily harm. While events may have originated from a disparity over land and resources, it is now unfolding into the targeted killings of a group not just for their land but also because of their religious affiliation.
Debates will rage on about whether to call this a genocide and whether the international community should act. First and foremost, the Nigerian government has a responsibility to do something before calling upon the international community. If it cannot do so, then international humanitarian law should be imposed to help those being targeted. Therefore, we are calling upon to Nigerian government and those in a position of power to prevent an already incredibly complex situation from spiraling into a full-blown genocide. This can be done by:
- Finding and prosecuting those responsible for the killings, as the Fulani have not received any punishment from the law thus far.
- Contacting local Nigerian politicians in affected communities to see what is being done to help the dispersed and the families of murder victims.
- Launching a full investigation into these crimes, establishing the victims, the perpetrators, their motivations and what preventative measures can be put in place.
- Disarming the Fulani, as many have committed these crimes using AK-47’s. It is unclear how they have access to such weapons. If the Nigerian government can stop or sanction the selling and trading of arms to the Fulani, it will not only prevent mass murdering but could lead to the possible arrest of Fulani members attempting to buy and use these arms for destruction.
- Provide safety and aid to those facing mass displacement.
This is an incredibly complex situation and the aforementioned information is a simplification of events for the purpose of spreading awareness and calling for justice. There are many other steps that can, and must, be taken.
In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, many analysts referred to it is as a “tribal war”, ignoring that the reality was the polar opposite. We are asking the Nigerian government and intentional community to not let Nigeria become the next Rwanda. Anyone who is in a position to act must do so before 6,000 dead becomes 60,000.
- Tweeting: .@MBuhari What is the Nigerian government doing to resolve the ongoing #Fulani attacks? To investigate the crimes and prosecute the perpetrators? To investigate the supply chain of AK-47s? To assist all victims of the conflict?
- Tweeting: .@PoliceNG Provide safety to those being targeted in #Nigeria by deploying force in areas under threat of #Fulani attacks!
- Tweeting: .@UNHumanRights @UN_Nigeria @UNDPNigeria How do we obtain peace and stop the #Fulani killings in #Nigeria?
- Tweeting: .@bukolasaraki @atiku @nnngo What can be done to stop the #Fulani attacks in #Nigeria?
- Start a petition to demand that your national government put pressure on Nigeria to act: https://www.change.org/start-a-petition?source_location=header