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Nigeria on the brink as elections approach

2 Jan 2019

As you read this Nigeria is preparing for a general election next month. Election season can be extremely volatile, and since the last elections the levels of insecurity have risen across the country. Two factions of Boko Haram terrorists are challenging government forces in the north-east, with reports at the time of writing of an Arabic speaking armed group infiltrating Sokoto State. Kidnappings for ransom have also increased.

There was a staggering number of casualties in 2018 alone in attacks by a militia consisting of members of the Fulani tribe. Local observers describe the violence as a campaign of ethnoreligious cleansing; it has claimed over 6,000 lives and displaced 62,000 people since 2011, largely in central states. These communities are paying an unacceptably high price for the
government’s failure to formulate an effective response to this violence, and tensions will only increase as elections approach.

No longer just ‘clashes’

There’s been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities across the Sahel region, often described as ‘farmer-herder clashes’, but recent attacks in Nigeria are so frequent and well-organised that this description is no longer adequate.Survivors speak of a heavily armed militia with sophisticated weaponry including AK-47s, and in some cases chemicals and rocket launchers.

Central Nigeria used to be the nation’s bread basket, but is now littered with destroyed homes and farmlands and displaced communities. Many farmers are no longer able to return to their fields, either because they have been occupied or out of fear of further attacks, leading to a risk of food shortages and possible famine.

Last June church leaders in Plateau State issued a statement rejecting the official narrative of these attacks as mere ‘clashes’, asking, ‘How can it be a clash when one group is persistently
attacking, killing, maiming, destroying; and the other group is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed?’

In the heart of danger
CSW’s Nigeria office is based in Kaduna State, and southern Kaduna has suffered deaths and displacements at the hands of the Fulani militia. The CSW team, led by Reverend Yunusa Nmadu, is often at risk as they travel around the country documenting human rights abuses and offering support, and especially need our prayers during the election period.

Meanwhile, restrictions on freedom of expression and of the press are on the rise. Particularly in Kaduna State, several reporters who attempted to highlight killings by the Fulani militia in southern Kaduna have been prosecuted for hate speech by the state government, even though ‘hate speech’ is not defined under Nigerian law.

We’re pleased that several countries, including the UK, are giving more attention to the situation in Nigeria. We regularly provide our research and policy recommendations to the UK government, the UN and other institutions, some of which were used in a House of Commons debate in November.

Please join us in praying for free, fair and peaceful elections, and that greater international attention will lead to strong, effective action to halt the deadly tide of ethno-religious violence, and bring peace to this troubled land.




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