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Foreign Lies on Herder-Farmer Crisis

We Northern Nigerian Muslims are so foolishly smug in our complacency we may one day wake up one day ‘occupied’ by a “Coalition” similar to those wreaking mayhem in other Muslim Lands. Our compatriots – Northern Christians – are giving us very bad publicity abroad. A new ‘Blame-The-Victim’ Report is out – “HIDDEN ATROCITIES: The Escalating Persecution and Displacement of Christians in Northern and Central Nigeria.” As we don’t do our own Research, we end up only reacting! Our friend Barr Audu Bulama Bukarti (bulamabukarti@gmail.com) of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London analyses the report. His sub-titles his submission “Hidden Atrocities and the Danger of Oversimplifying a Complex Crisis.”

On 13 November 2018, Australia-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), published a 20-page report titled ‘Hidden Atrocities’ which struggled to over-simplify a rather complex conflict in profound ways. No one would have bothered putting pen to paper on this contraption called “report” if it had not claimed it is a product of a “fact-finding visit” by no less personalities than a member of the British House of Lords Baroness Cox and a Reverend Father, David Thomas. I have several issues of credibility on the report, but the following are the main ones:

There is gross mischaracterisation of the conflict because the report cited a “witness” that branded Fulani herders as “Fulani Islamists” and claimed in its second page that Fulani herders attacking villages shout “Allahu Akbar!” during assaults, and thereby dangerously mischaracterising the whole conflict as Jihad against Christian communities.

Firstly, I have studied ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin for a decade, but this is the first time I would read a report claiming that Fulani herders shout “Allahu Akbar!” during attacks. This, to my mind, is a grand claim that would require some form of documentary, credible and compelling evidence rather than the “testimony” of one alleged survivor.

Secondly, even if we assume attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar!”, that does not qualify them as pursuing an Islamic agenda. It is common knowledge that in the heydays of Boko Haram, robbers went to banks and simply shouted “Allahu Akbar” to scare their victims and conduct their operation seamlessly.

There is also gross misrepresentation of the crisis as a massacre by one party only because the report claimed the crisis is an ethnic cleansing of Christian communities by Muslim Fulanis while presenting attacks and massacres by Christians of Muslim as self-defence. On page 9, it stated “We understand that youths in Jos are taking matters into their own hands by going on violent reprisals against Muslims who they believe are backed by the Government.”

The above simply flies in the face. Firstly, this is clearly a conflict between farmers who, in North Central Nigeria, happen to be predominantly Christian and herders that are mainly Muslim, with causalities on both sides. Thus, misrepresenting the conflict as an attack by one ethno-religious group with the other merely defending itself is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, fraudulent.

The claim of complicity of the Nigerian Government is also very fraudulent. The report is laced with direct statements and insinuations that the Buhari-led administration supports the Fulanis in their “massacre” of Christians. It claimed “We heard numerous reports that Fulani attacks are taking place with the Nigerian Government’s connivance.” It further alleged that soldiers disarm Christian communities who “deem [keeping weapons] necessary for self-defence against attacks” while not applying the same policy on Fulanis. It further claimed in a rather clandestine style that “the Government sent in a helicopter with military and [the] Fulani met them. The soldiers were distributed to Fulani homes. The Fulani herdsmen go about with AK47s and soldiers can’t challenge them.”

To justify this claim, the report said President Buhari is a Fulani and his service chiefs support him; that he is a Patron of Miyetti Allah who arms the Fulanis and that Miyyetti Allah is an association comprising of “retired military officers, Fulani and non-Fulani Muslims”.

To begin with, to present Miyetti Allah as an association which “comprises of retired military officers, Fulani and non-Fulani Muslims” is clearly false and fraudulent; it is a known fact that it is an association of Fulanis and Buhari being a Fulani is one of its Patrons. The claim that President Buhari supports the Fulani “militants” simply because he is Fulani is akin to claiming that every Kanuri man supports Boko Haram, which is simply false.

Furthermore, while Miyetti Allah is a pan-Fulani group, there is no scintilla of evidence to support that it supports killings by some Fulani herders. Finally, President Buhari is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and he appointed all the service chiefs who report to him. To use the fact that the service chief’s support for their boss, which they are obliged by both law and common sense to do, as evidence of connivance with Fulani herders who are involved in tit-for-tat attacks with their neighbours, is a blatant untruth.

Does HART want the president to appoint people who oppose him into those positions? Or does it want the service chiefs to rebel against their commander-in-chief? Finally, claims that the military connives with Fulani herders is as grand a lie as can be contrived, as it is not supported by even the smallest amount of evidence in the report.

On unreliable figures and glaring one-sidedness, the report brandished casualty figures claimed by non-neutral persons that are either part of the conflict or clearly interested in it from the Christian Solidarity Worldwide to the Christian Association of Nigeria to figures without source. These figures are clearly unreliable as they come from persons who are interested in the conflict.

Further, the report is clearly one-sided as it only documented “losses” from only one side of the conflict. The authors interviewed about ten reverends and church leaders and more than a dozen ‘survivors’, ALL OF WHOM ARE CHRISTIAN, but did not interview a single Muslim survivor. In a rather curious attempt to cover up this transparent bias, the ‘researchers’ interviewed only ONE Muslim community leader and did not produce his testimony on losses suffered by his community – we are even over-magnanimous to assume they interviewed him on that at all. It rather reported him making a humanitarian appeal to the people and government of the United Kingdom!

Finally, this contraption of figures and one-sided stories posing as a report is laced with self-contradictions. While admitting that the crisis is complex, it proceeded to dangerously oversimplify it. It, at the end, reproduced a redacted version of a speech by the President of the Church of Christ in Nations, Rev Dr Dachollom Chumang Datiri, on the visit to President Buhari. In the said speech, the President of COCIN did not raise any of the issues the report claimed.

Firstly, he did not claim that the Fulanis are an Islamist militia, he called them “Fulani militia”. Secondly, it did not claim that the Christian community is innocent as the report wants us to believe. Thirdly, he did not claim connivance on the part of the Federal Government, not to talk of the president himself; rather he claimed that “the military [are] used as hired mercenaries by the Fulani militias.” Fourthly, he did not brandish anything near the “causality” figures claimed in the report.

Unfortunately, whereas HART said it set out on a fact-finding mission, it ended up coming up with fiction, imaginations, unfounded figures and grandiose, unsubstantiated claims that are clearly biased and openly treacherous. I however take solace in the fact that these conspiracy theories are not new, as they are the kinds of narratives we heard at the inception of the Boko Haram tragedy.

No discerning human being can believe such trash.

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