The Nigerian government on Friday rejected the latest report by a parliamentary group in the United Kingdom, which accused the Federal Government of not protecting the lives/property of Christians and minority communities in the country.
The group, United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, said Christians and minority farmers had suffered massive attacks by herders over the years, but got little or no protection from the government.
The group noted in a report, following its investigation into killings by Boko Haram and herders in Nigeria, that some evidence indicated that the murderous groups enjoyed government backing, while minority communities resorted to self-help by means of vigilantes to escape death.
The parliamentary group had earlier called on the UK’s Government to specifically target minority communities in the spending of its estimated £2 billion aid to Nigeria to guarantee adequate protection for such vulnerable localities.
The APPG, comprising about 100 members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, is chaired by Jim Shannon. He is an MP from the Democratic Unionist party in Northern Ireland.
“Attacks by armed groups of Muslim Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians”, Shannon stated while commenting on the findings.
The report noted, “Some local vigilantes, led by youths, take matters into their own hands by going on violent reprisals against Muslims, who they believe are backed by the government. Such retaliatory violence cannot be condoned.”
It added that the role of vigilantes suggested the absence of adequate protection by government, saying that “reprisals must be seen in the context of an urgent need for the authorities to enforce the rule of law to protect all citizens.”
The MPs further observed, “Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK-47s 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.”
However, the Nigerian Presidency, on Friday, disagreed with the submission of the MPs.
It argued that the report largely misrepresented the facts in Nigeria and down-played the efforts by government to address the frequent clashes between herders and farmers in Nigeria.
It also argued that Christians and Muslims were victims of religious or ethnic conflicts in the country, noting that in the case of Boko Haram, it served the interest of the insurgents to target Christians and churches to drive home its agenda of fuelling tensions between the two religions.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said in the statement that Muslims and mosques too were attacked.
“The President and Government of Nigeria wish to thank members of the United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief for their report, launched a few days ago.
“Although, it is difficult reading, the statement also acknowledges the importance of accurate, unbiased, de-politicised and truthful information when it comes to understanding the realities and addressing the challenges for those of faith in Nigeria.
“In this regard, when uncritical attention is afforded to critics with dubious intentions, it only becomes harder for both the government and people of Nigeria to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve our differences, and uphold what is enshrined in our Constitution and laws: that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, it said.
The Presidency narrated further, “It is clear for all to see that there have, for generations in Nigeria, been tensions between our major religions, Christianity and Islam – and between herders and farmers – both for access to ever-decreasing arable and farmland due to a rapidly rising population, temperatures and desertification through global warming.
“Exacerbating those tensions, our nation has also been in recent times and focused within the northern states – subjected to vicious and criminal attacks by the terror group Boko Haram.”
On the efforts to address the problem, it stated, “In concert with our American and British allies, Nigeria’s military have pushed back the terrorists and largely reduced their capacity over the last five years compared to the previous decade.
“Boko Haram have targeted Christians and Churches specifically because they know it drives forward religious and land tensions already existent in the country. Similarly, they attack mosques and Muslims in order to issue the threat: radicalise, or become targets yourselves.”
The Presidency gave the assurance that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would not sleep on finding long-term solutions and outlined what the government would do in the years ahead.
“These include continuing and increasing Nigeria’s efforts alongside our allies to fully defeat and finally finish Boko Haram, in order to bring security to the north of the country.
“Continuing to seek, negotiate for, and secure the return of all those held hostage and in captivity by the terrorists, regardless of the religious faith or belief.
“Uniting our nation through dialogue organised around respect for difference in religion. Such a programme is already underway under the leadership of the Vice-President, Pastor Yemi Osinbajo.
“Addressing, through Joint Federal and State Governments programmes, access to arable farmland – with land mandated both for farmers and herders. The federal government will issue detailed measures regarding this plan and its rollout in the coming weeks.
“Countering fake news – particularly on social and digital media – by working with the non-partisan stakeholder community, the National Broadcasting Commission and social media platforms themselves, to address the proliferation of false and inflammatory commentary.”
It added that Nigeria was ready to work with all groups that showed interest in the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians by promoting freedom of religion and thoughts.
“The President and government have and will at all times work with those – both within and without Nigeria – with a concern for the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
“In this regard, we look forward to welcoming members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to our country to see for themselves the work that is going on to promote these fundamental rights of our citizens”, the Presidency said.