By Ojo Maduekwe
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari during his speech at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, did a lot of appealing to world leaders on the plight facing the world’s Muslims, but said nothing about the systematic killings of the Christian population in the northern part of Nigeria.
Describing the crisis in the Rakhine State of Myanmar as a “desperate human rights and humanitarian” situation reminiscent of the Bosnia crisis in 1995 and Rwanda in 1994, Buhari called on the international community to condemn what he says is a “state-backed programme of brutal depopulation of the Rohingya inhabited areas in Myanmar on the bases of ethnicity and religion.”
There is a systematic killing of Nigeria’s Christians in the northern part of the country where Islam thrives. Documented evidence shows AK47-wileding Muslim Fulani herdsmen ransacking Christian farming communities, killing the men and boys and raping the women and young girls. Many analysts argue that the objective of these systematic killings is to depopulate the Christian population and also the grabbing of lands belonging to the Christian communities.
The Nigerian government under Buhari remains complicit. The government has maintained a disturbing silence over the unrelenting killings. Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, whose country home in Southern Nigeria was also raided by the nomadic Fulani herdsmen, said the terrorists are persistent in their violence due to the failure of the federal government to respond to these killings.
Many of these atrocities are under-reported by an underfunded Nigerian press, and when they do, they mainly quote government press statements which phrases the narrative to look like the killings by these Muslim Fulani herdsmen are simple clashes between the herdsmen and Christian farmers.
The 2016 World Watch List recorded a 62 percent increase in the killings of Christians in northern Nigeria. In 2015, there were 4,028 killings and 198 church attacks, according to Open Doors. The figures recorded for the previous year were 2,484 killings and 108 church attacks. An estimated 30 million Christians in northern Nigeria form the largest minority in the northern region.
Where the government has chosen to comment on the killings, they absolve the Muslim Fulani herdsmen of any blame. Security agencies from the military, the secret police, down to the police have issued statements describing the killings as clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Even Buhari considers it so, clashes. They have focused more on placating the armed herdsmen, compensating them in cash and setting up military task forces to address cattle rustling, while ignoring the farmers.
The government has ruled out the use of force to clamp down hard on the Muslim Fulani herdsmen, which is categorized as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world after the Islamic State (ISIL), the Taliban, and Boko Haram, according to the 2015Global Terrorist Index. Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, said “This is a non-military issue that borders on law and order. It is not every security issue that you call in the military. It is the responsibility of the police to maintain peace.”
The refusal of the government to order the military to go after the armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen smacks of hypocrisy. This is a government that has all manner of military operations across the country, including one to quell a peaceful agitation by unarmed secessionist group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, but none to tackle the armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
Make no mistake, the killings of northern Christians by Muslim Fulani herdsmen and the grabbing of their lands is systematic and not a clash. Buhari might want to apply his ‘UNGA 72’ speech at home and halt the ongoing “ethnic cleansing and ensure the safe return of the displaced Rohingya (replace that with northern Christian farming communities) to their homes in safety and dignity.”