25 October 2018
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton in Cheshire, said in the House of Commons today that “nothing less than genocide is unfolding in Nigeria”. Bruce was speaking during a debate to mark this year’s International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day.
The MP said: ‘I will now turn to Nigeria—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) wants to speak about that country, so I will shorten my comments a little. A serious issue is occurring in Nigeria. I will refer first to my letter of 9 October to the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), regarding the case of Leah Sharibu, one of 110 girls abducted by Boko Haram from their school in Dapchi. The other girls were all released some six months ago following negotiations, but Leah—the only Christian among them—remains in captivity because she refuses to convert in exchange for her freedom. She has now spent more than 200 days in captivity. Will the Minister speak with his ministerial counterpart, and perhaps respond to my question in that letter about what steps the UK Government can take to assist the Nigerian authorities in ensuring Leah’s swift and safe return?
‘I draw the Minister’s attention to concerns that nothing less than genocide is unfolding in Nigeria, with inadequate international attention paid to it. In recent years there has been an escalation in attacks on communities in several states by well-armed Fulani herdsmen. Local observers describe those attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide—an organisation whose work globally, and in this case in Nigeria, I also pay tribute to—say that
“the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recently revealed that herders have destroyed over 500 churches in Benue state alone since 2011.”
‘When I visited Nigeria over two years ago with the International Development Committee, my colleagues and I attended a roundtable of civil society representatives. One of those representatives was a senior member of the Christian Association of Nigeria, who highlighted concerns about the issue, saying that ethno-religious cleansing was happening. Sadly, insufficient notice of his concerns was taken by DFID [Department for International Development] representatives in Nigeria at the time Two years later, the matter has significantly worsened. I implore the Minister to look into the situation. It has been exacerbated by inadequate Nigerian Government action, which CSW says has “entrenched impunity”.
‘The people being persecuted by those herdsmen need Government support, as the herdsmen are so brutal that individual communities are defenceless against them. Only yesterday evening, at a meeting of Nigerians, I spoke with someone who had lived in Nigeria until very recently. He told me that those herder militias are so brutal that even Boko Haram leaves them alone. They are armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK47s, in some cases chemicals, and even rocket launchers. Those militias are believed to have murdered more people in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands. It is not sufficient to say that they are simply traveller communities involved in farmer-herder clashes, attacking indiscriminately. That is what I heard when I was there.
‘Attacks on Christian communities by these herdsmen are becoming far too common. CSW reports that in the first quarter of 2018 they have perpetrated more than 100 attacks on communities in central Nigeria, claiming more than 1,000 lives. To give one example, in August a Nigerian pastor, Adamu Wurim Gyang, his three children and his wife were burnt alive when their house was set on fire in Abonong village. A clergyman, Ezekiel Dachomo, appealed in a video in September for assistance from the US, UK parliamentarians and the UN, saying:
“Please stand for us. We are dying…please allow us to survive. We have nobody. Only God in heaven can stand for us. Please, I am begging you. United Nations, your silence is getting worse…Please, please, I’m begging you stand for the helpless.”
‘The international community must hear these cries. Those of us who remember the barbaric genocide in Rwanda are reflecting now that history could be repeating itself. Will the Minister work with the UN to urge the Nigerian Government to develop effective solutions to bring an end to this atrocious violence?
‘Before I turn to my final country, I urge colleagues, in addition to commemorating International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day today, to support Red Wednesday on 28 November. I ask them to join calls for the Speaker to permit the buildings of Parliament—the Commons and the Lords—to be lit up red to highlight the concerns we have about these freedoms. I also ask them to urge local public buildings in their communities to do the same. A third day that I would like to draw colleagues’ attention to is specifically about victims of genocide. I tabled an early-day motion in July asking for support for an international day commemorating victims and survivors of religious persecution. If colleagues would be good enough to sign that EDM, we can perhaps bring the need to have a particular focus on victims and survivors much more into the international arena than we have to date.’
Earlier, Kevin Foster the Conservative MP for Torbay weighed in saying: ‘We should look not just at the middle east, but at sub-Saharan Africa and at the situation in Nigeria in particular. Nigeria is a melting pot of many cultures and faiths. It has the opportunity and the resources to be a wonderful place that provides a high standard of living for its people, but all too often those resources are caught up in conflict or destroyed.’