Jim Shannon MP, Fiona Bruce MP, Baroness Cox and Lord Alton of Liverpool today met Rebecca Sharibu and her companion, Gloria, to discuss the failure of the Nigerian authorities to free Rebecca’s daughter Leah.
Rebecca described how, two years ago, Islamist radicals, Boko Haram, seized her 14 year old daughter, abducted her and attempted to forcibly convert her. There are reports that she was subsequently enslaved, raped and impregnated, giving birth to a child. She criticised the failure of President Buhari who she said took seven months to contact her after Leah’s abduction: “He promised her freedom but it hasn’t happened and that was the first and only time he contacted me.”
On Leah’s 16th birthday, on the 24th May 2019 I asked the UK Government what they had done to help Leah:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the protests in Nigeria demanding the release of the Chibok schoolgirls who have been held in captivity for over 1,500 days; and when they last raised their captivity, and that of Leah Sharibu, with the President of Nigeria.
The UK is committed to supporting the Nigerian Government in their attempts to secure the release of the remaining girls taken from Chibok, Leah Sharibu taken from Dapchi, and all others abducted by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa. The Prime Minister raised the plight of the abducted school girls with the President of Nigeria during his official visit to the UK in 2018. We continue to use Ministerial visits, such as the Foreign Secretary‘s visit last month, and public messaging to ensure that the girls’ plight is not forgotten. Our officials in Abuja will continue to engage regularly and offer their support to the Government of Nigeria and other organisations working to securing their release.
On January 20th Leah’s case was once again raised with the UK Government:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL833):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the abduction of Leah Sharibu, what assessment they have made of reports of her enslavement, forced conversion and pregnancy; what actions they have taken to secure her release; and what response they received from the government of Nigeria when they raised her situation with them. (HL833)
Tabled on: 28 January 2020
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:
The UK has made repeated calls for the release of all those abducted by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), including Leah Sharibu. We are appalled by and condemn her reported enslavement, forced conversion and pregnancy. In 2018, we offered expertise to help the Nigerian Government in their search for Leah and the other schoolgirls abducted from Dapchi, Borno State. We continue to use public messaging and our engagement with the Government of Nigeria to help secure the release of Leah and all those abducted by the insurgent groups. The Government of Nigeria have assured us that they are making all efforts to secure her return.
Date and time of answer: 11 Feb 2020 at 13:25.
But Leah is still separated from her mother and her family – when President Buhari was in London recently for talks about trade did the UK Government raise her case with him?
While Nigeria continues to receive staggering amounts of UK aid – around 2.5 billion over the last 10 years and in the last 12 months an average of around £800,000 every day – parts of the country face appalling conflict – with an estimated 6000 deaths since 2015.
The Nigerian House of representatives declared recent events in Plateau State to be a genocide. attacks by Boko Haram, Fulani militias and other linked militias continue in northern and central belt States. This has contributed to over 2.5 million Internally displaced persons.
IDPs have given evidence that “In more than ten years of crisis in Jos, local people observed a connivance of militants with the military on many occasions.” The Army’s former Chef of Staff, Lieutenant Thophilus Danjuma say the armed forces “are not neutral they collude…in the ethnic cleansing.” A British journalist recently wrote that “every village has a similar story”
After a recent visit to Nigeria, Baroness Cox produced this summary:
And this hasn’t just come out of the blue. See this post from 2012
See the warnings given 18 months ago in a House of Lords debate on Nigeria by myself ,Baroness (Caroline) Cox and Lord Chidgey:
the tragic topicality of today’s debate was underlined last weekend when more than 200 people were reported to have died in co-ordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Plateau state in Barkin Ladi. These attacks began on 22 June and lasted until 24 June.
The majority of the victims were women and children. At one location, 120 were killed as they returned from the funeral of an elderly member of the Church of Christ in Nations.
A dawn to dusk curfew was established and, as I heard first hand yesterday from the honourable Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, the area remains tense. This most recent episode is shocking, but it is also the latest in an extended pattern of violence that has become all too common across Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt and increasingly in some of the more southern states.
On a single day during his visit, there were six suicide bombings by Boko Haram, the largest number ever on any single day. As we will hear later from my noble—and courageous—friend Lady Cox, who has visited these areas, these attacks have been systematic and go on unabated.
Human rights groups such as CSW have catalogued every reported attack. While it may not be definitive, the list attempts to provide as comprehensive a record as possible of known attacks and of the death toll in the Middle Belt during the first quarter of this year, underlining the critical need for urgent and effective intervention.
I have sent many of these details to Ministers but in the interests of time I will just give the House a snapshot from a few days in April of this year. On 10 April, 10 people were killed in Ukum in Benue state. On 10 April, 51 were killed in Wukari, Taraba state. On 12 April, 41 were killed in Ukum, Benue state. On 12 April, two were killed in Makurdi in Benue state, and another 41 were killed in Ukum in Benue state.
The charity Aid to the Church in Need, on whose board I sit in a pro bono capacity, has also documented appalling acts of violence, which I have sent to the Government.
In April, during early morning mass, militants attacked the parish in Makurdi killing two priests and 17 members of the congregation. ACN has also highlighted the 15,000 orphans and 5,000 widows in the north-east—an area that has come under repeated attack from Boko Haram.
I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what humanitarian aid we have been able to provide for victims.
CSW reports that in the first quarter of 2018, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria. The death toll in these four months, purely from herder militia violence, stands at 1,061. An additional 11 attacks recorded on communities in the south of the country claimed a further 21 lives. One spokesman said: “It is purely a religious jihad in disguise”.
There has certainly been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities right across the Sahel, over land, grazing and scarce resources—I have visited places such as Darfur myself and have seen that at first hand. It is true that attacks by herder militia have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities conclude that they can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice.
Between 1 January and 1 May this year, there were 60 such attacks. However, compared with the recent escalation in attacks by well-armed Fulani herders upon predominately Christian farming communities, the asymmetry is stark and must be acknowledged by the UK Government in their characterisation and narrative of this violence. Given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of Fulani attacks, does the Minister believe that the references to “farmer-herder clashes” still suffice?
In the face of the reports of violence collected by impartial human rights groups, there is no place here for, as it were, moral equivalence; nor is it sufficient for the Government merely to urge all sides to seek dialogue and avoid violence. I would urge the noble Baroness to revisit the narrative, conduct her own assessment and either confirm or dispute the data that I have given to the House already—I know other noble Lords will do the same.
Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK47s and, in at least one case, a rocket launcher and rocket-propelled grenades, the Fulani militia have murdered more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than even Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands of people. This is organised and systematic.
We must ask where this group of nomadic herdsmen is getting such sophisticated weaponry from.
I wonder whether the Minister has had a chance to look into this; if not, will she give an undertaking to do so?
While recognising the complex, underlying causes of this violence, we must also acknowledge a growing degree of religious motivation behind the violence. The local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria recently revealed that herdsmen have destroyed over 500 churches in Benue state alone since 2011.
Perhaps the Minister could also respond to reports that during many of these well-planned attacks by Fulani militia, their cattle are nowhere in sight, and they are often reported by survivors to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” during these attacks. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this undoubtedly sectarian aspect of the escalating violence.
Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, I cannot see much practical action that has been taken to end the violence, which has emboldened perpetrators even further. Moreover, in the light of such an inadequate response thus far, communities will begin—and indeed already are beginning—to feel that they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice, and a few take matters into their own hands.
In the words of an Anglican canon in the Middle Belt, “Why do so many security service personnel spend their time guarding our politicians, rather than protecting our people?” I also put on record a recent statement to President Buhari issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. Among other things the statement said:
“Since the President who appointed the Heads of the nation’s Security Agencies has refused to call them to order, even in the face of the chaos and barbarity into which our country has been plunged, we are left with no choice but to conclude that they are acting on a script that he approves of. If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens. He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.”
That is a pretty awesome statement from a bishops’ conference.
Concern about partiality was also raised on 24 March, by the highly respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Y Danjuma, who stated that the armed forces were, “not neutral; they collude” in the,
“ethnic cleansing in … riverine states”, by Fulani militia. He insisted that villagers must defend themselves because,
“depending on the armed forces”, will result in them dying,
“one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop … in all the states of Nigeria; otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play”.
I would like to hear, therefore, what practical steps the UK Government are taking to work with the Government of Nigeria in developing effective solutions to bring an end to this escalating violence. Can the Minister tell us whether there is a strategic plan and what representations have been made directly? I know that finding solutions is complex, but there is nothing to stop the Minister calling on the Government of Nigeria to recalibrate security arrangements and to resource their forces as a matter of urgency, in order to offer sufficient protection to vulnerable communities.
As I close, I thank the noble Lords who are participating in today’s debate and go back to where I began: to the more than 200 people, mostly women and children, who were killed in sustained attacks on 50 villages by armed Fulani militia just this past weekend. People are dying daily. On 18 June, the Archbishop of Abuja referred in the Telegraph to what he described as “territorial conquest” and “ethnic cleansing” and said:
“The very survival of our nation is … at stake”.
This alone should serve as a wake-up call. Are we to watch one of Africa’s greatest countries go the way of Sudan? Will we be indifferent as radical forces sweep across the Sahel seeking to replace diversity and difference with a monochrome ideology that will be imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply? We must not wait for a genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could very easily be repeated.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing this debate at this tragically critical time. Over recent decades there have been numerous attacks on Christians in the northern states, where sharia law has been established, as well as in Plateau state in the central belt. Thousands of Christians have been killed, hundreds of churches burned, and homes destroyed. The tragedies escalated with the rise of Boko Haram, which also killed Muslims who did not accept its Islamist ideology.
I have visited many times and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in Bauchi, Kano and Plateau states. But more recently, as other noble Lords have described, there has been a very disturbing change in the behaviour of the Fulani herdsmen. Since time immemorial, they have driven their huge herds of cattle through other people’s lands, causing tensions and some violence, but traditionally, they have moved on. However, in the last two to three years they have adopted a new policy: attacking Christian villages, killing local people, destroying homes, driving villagers off their lands and settling in their place. Now there has been this recent escalation of attacks on Christian villages by the Fulani, with, as other noble Lords have highlighted, over 200 civilians killed in Plateau state just last weekend. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last time I was in Nigeria, I visited four villages which had been destroyed by Fulani. I stood in the rubble of the pastor’s home where he had been slaughtered, and I saw the huge numbers of Fulani cattle roaming through the destroyed villages. There are concerns that the Fulani militants are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of driving Christians out of their homelands in northern and central-belt Nigeria.
Time allows only a few examples of quotations from local people, but they are indicative of many more. They provided first-hand evidence of the horror and terror now prevailing in these areas. This is one quote:
“Fulani herdsmen, yesterday 23 June, on a rampage, attacked about 10 villages; ‘in Nghar village alone, about 70 corpses were recovered as the entire village was razed down’”.
This is another:
“The attack last night was vicious … armed Fulani men dressed/masked in black entered Rasak & Gana Ropp villages, shooting randomly … The house of one … family … was surrounded & directly attacked … the Fulani were shooting into the house … as they shouted ‘Allahu Akbar!’”
This is another:
“Other villages in the area … were completely sacked by the armed herders. Survivors from the attacks from these ‘villages are believed to still be hiding in the bushes’”.
Over 60 people are known to have been killed there.
This is another quote:
“The attacks are continuing in other villages and in Gashish. As of 6 pm, at least 30 people were feared dead with several houses and cars razed down”.
This is my last example:
“In a continuing killing spree, Islamic Fulani cattle herdsmen killed eight people in Bassa local council, near Jos. From Sunday 17 June, till today (20th June) we have had no peace in the villages around here … all these villages have been attacked one after the other in three days”.
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, who had taken custody of a baby whose mother was killed, said:
“I am in tears because I have taken a child whose mother was shot dead. A family of four killed, another two young men shot dead and so on … Where are those who will protect the poor? Where is the leadership? It is a week and three days now with daily killings of poor unarmed and unprotected citizens of Plateau State”.
Related concerns expressed by local people include the interpretation of the situation as intercommunal attacks, with both sides being equally guilty. One resident said:
“It is annoying when politicians say this is a clash between herdsmen and farmers. I ask, how does a woman farming in her own farm clash with Fulanis carrying AK-47s?”
Other concerns include: failure of security services to protect civilians; impunity, with no one responsible for the killings being called to account; the escalation in the number of internally displaced peoples; and the destruction of crops, which are the livelihood of local people.
I want to make three requests of the Minister. Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Government of Nigeria to take effective action to protect all their citizens and to call to account those who have been perpetrating atrocities? Will Her Majesty’s Government work with the high commission to ensure that adequate humanitarian aid is available for those suffering the loss of family members and the destruction of their homes and crops, and forced to become IDPs? Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Nigerian Government to undertake an investigation into the ethnic and religious persecution of the affected people and the operation of the Nigerian army during these attacks?
There is real fear that these developments are part of a strategy by Islamist fundamentalists to drive Christians out of their traditional homelands in northern and central-belt regions of Nigeria. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to respond appropriately to the very real possibility of religious cleansing.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on their contributions, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this subject to us today. There has been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities across the Sahel. In Nigeria, attacks are now occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that references to “farmer-herder clashes” are wholly inadequate. Armed with relatively sophisticated weaponry, particularly AK47s, the Fulani herder militia is thought to have murdered more men, women and children, between 2015 and 2017, than Boko Haram.
It has overrun and seized property and land, and displaced tens of thousands of people. In 2017, herder militia claimed 808 lives in 53 villages in southern Kaduna alone, burning down over 1,400 houses. As pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, during most of these well-planned attacks, herders’ cattle were nowhere in sight. Over 180,000 people in Benue state are currently living in IDP camps because the herder militia violence has displaced them. More than 500,000 displaced people are living in temporary accommodation, and over 80,000 school-age children are living in IDP camps with no access to education.
Attacks continue unabated, with seemingly little government action. This has entrenched impunity. Apart from verbal condemnations, there has been no action to end the violence. No attacker has been brought to justice. With perpetrators emboldened, attacks by herder militia have now spread to southern Nigeria. No longer able to rely on the Government for protection or justice, communities are seeing a growth in vigilantism and retaliatory justice. The growth in murders of villagers and community leaders in Benue has also led to calls for President Buhari to consider his position, and for the reassessment of security arrangements as a matter of urgency.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 24 March this year the respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma, stated that the armed forces were “not neutral” and that “they collude” in the “ethnic cleansing” of riverine states by the Fulani militia.
Earlier this week, I too had the opportunity to meet with the honourable Kwewum Rimande Shawulu, courtesy of the advocacy organisation CSW. The honourable Shawulu is a member of the Nigerian federal House of Representatives in Taraba state. Among his wide-ranging writing and editorial activities, he is currently chair of the National Assembly Army Committee, which gives him unique insight into Nigeria’s current security challenges.
In our discussions, he was able to rebut the claim that the anti-grazing laws are the cause of the spread of violence. The only states with anti-grazing laws are in fact Taraba, Benue and Ekiti, yet attacks have been occurring over 10 states. For example, in Plateau state, where there are no anti-grazing laws, there have been many killings, including last weekend, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when over 200 civilians were reported killed. Interestingly, while there is some evidence that some of the violence has a religious dimension, the honourable Shawulu argued that the only affected area was Adamawa state, which is predominately Christian. Other areas with similar land and other resources have suffered no attacks, be they Christian or Muslim.
The overriding concern is that the growing instability and lawlessness in the region is providing fertile ground for kidnapping, banditry and terrorism with impunity. If this is not addressed, there is a real danger that the activities of Boko Haram, ISIS and similar terrorist groups could penetrate and destabilise the whole region. If not addressed, this could create a conflict and humanitarian crisis on a scale that would engage the international community, the UN Security Council and the UK. The prospect of terrorist cells spreading through Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, and to territories beyond to threaten Europe cannot lightly be dismissed.
I urge the Government to act now, working alongside their Nigerian counterparts and fellow Commonwealth members, particularly while the UK holds the post-CHOGM Chair-in-Office. I suggest that DfID might examine the aid programme to Nigeria to ensure that provision is made for the communities that have been victims of the Fulani attacks. It should also ensure that minority communities in the north affected by Boko Haram attacks have access to humanitarian aid. There are also issues such as collective Commonwealth support in promoting the non-discriminatory and “even” application of the law to restore and strengthen faith in the law.
The attacks the Nigerian people are suffering can surely be mitigated, if not eroded, with the support of the agencies of the UN, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, the faith community and international NGOs. Can the Minister, in her response or in writing, set out how the UK might plan to play a primary role in such a venture?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that 900 churches in Nigeria have been destroyed by Boko Haram; and what assessment they have made of whether such activity is part of a campaign to eradicate Christianity in the north of that country.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the protests in Nigeria demanding the release of the Chibok schoolgirls who have been held in captivity for over 1,500 days; and when they last raised their captivity, and that of Leah Sharibu, with the President of Nigeria.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent killings in Nigeria, in particular the attacks in (1) Nassarawa State, (2) Benue State, (3) Kaduna State, and (4) Gombe.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following reports that Nigeria’s recent presidential and national assembly elections were marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud, what representations they will make to the government of Nigeria about ensuring free, fair and peaceful gubernatorial elections are held on 9 May.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Nigeria about the wellbeing of (1) Sambo Dasuki, (2) Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and (3) Zeenah Ibrahim, who have been detained since 2015 despite court orders for their release.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Nigeria about the continued imprisonment of Leah Sharibu, following the anniversary of her captivity; and what response they received.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment, if any, they have made of the remarks by the Bishop of Gboko Diocese in Nigeria, William Amove Avenya, about the level of violence committed by Fulani tribesmen and the inadequacy of the response to it.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment, if any, they have made of the remarks by the Bishop of Gboko Diocese in Nigeria, William Amove Avenya, about the response of the international community to violence committed by Fulani tribesmen.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the assassination of Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the former Chief of Defence Staff in Nigeria.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: …and eloquent way in which he set the scene. The roll-call of suffering is horrendous and a harbinger of even worse to come if, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just reminded us, we fail to act. In Nigeria, nearly 27,000 refugees from Cameroon are registered with the UNHCR. Thousands more have been forced to flee their homes and dozens of villages have been ethnically cleansed. According…
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Nigeria about the abduction of Leah Sharibu by Boko Haram; what information they have about her health and well-being; and what assessment they have made of reports that, following her refusal to renounce her faith, she will be enslaved for the rest of her life.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: …humanity, Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir travels with impunity and seeks trade deals with the United Kingdom. In a recent debate I highlighted the same pattern of events now unfolding in northern Nigeria, where the former head of the country’s army recently described atrocities by Boko Haram and Fulani militias as a genocide, with 1.8 million displaced persons, 5,000 widows, 15,000…
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that communities in Plateau State, Nigeria, who have been victims of attacks by Fulani herder militia have been searched for weapons though the perpetrators of such attacks have not.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the attack on 30 June on the home of Benjamin Kwashi, the Nigerian Archbishop of Jos and General Secretary of the Global Anglican Futures Conference, which left one civilian dead; and whether they have taken any action to raise the plight of those subject to attacks by Fulani militia with the government of Nigeria.
South Sudan – Question for Short Debate (4 Jul 2018)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: …comply as well as Christians and followers of traditional religions. It cynically bought support by setting one group against another using the age-old tactic of divide and rule. Countries such as Nigeria would do well to study the appalling consequences of allowing the promotion of an ideology that is still being relentlessly pursued in other parts of Sudan, such as Darfur, Blue Nile and…
Nigeria – Question for Short Debate (28 Jun 2018)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the continuing violence between communities and armed groups in Nigeria.
Nigeria – Question for Short Debate (28 Jun 2018)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: …of an elderly member of the Church of Christ in Nations. A dawn to dusk curfew was established and, as I heard first hand yesterday from the honourable Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, the area remains tense. This most recent episode is shocking, but it is also the latest in an extended pattern of violence that has become all too common…