The UK’s Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay, faced questions in the House of Lords on Tuesday 22 November over insecurity in Nigeria and the escalating deaths in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers.
Baroness Cox, who we reported last week, avoided being caught up in an attack by the herdsmen while visiting Nigeria led the questions.
Cox asked in the Lords chamber: “What assessment they [the UK government] have made of the continuing intercommunal conflicts in the northern and Middle Belt states of Nigeria; and what assistance they are providing for those displaced by these conflicts”.
Baroness Anelay responded that: “We remain deeply concerned by recurrent clashes involving pastoralists and local farmers, particularly in the Middle Belt. We call on all parties to find a peaceful solution. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to ending intercommunal violence and addressing the economic and environmental challenges that fuel tensions. The Government support a range of initiatives and economic projects to build bridges between communities across Nigeria through the £39 million Stability and Reconciliation Programme”.
Cox went further to say she saw how bad things were during her Nigeria visit, speaking of “growing attacks by Islamist Fulani herders on non-Muslim communities, which have spiralled since May 2015, killing civilians, driving them from their villages and occupying their lands.” She added: “One such attack happened just last week when we were there, in Kauru, Kaduna state, where 41 villagers were killed. Will Her Majesty’s Government ask the Government of Nigeria what measures they are taking to fulfil more effectively their duty to protect ethnic and religious minorities?”
The Bishop of Coventry made this contribution: “My diocese is linked to the Anglican diocese of Kaduna, so I know something from the first-hand testimony of the bishop of the effects of communal violence in the Middle Belt states of Nigeria. Some very good reconciliation work is being undertaken there, as we have heard, and it is helpful to hear the assurance of the Minister on DfID [Department for International Development] funding for such projects. Perhaps I may ask her a little more specifically whether the Government are able to exert any influence on the Nigerian Government to ensure the return of land to communities that have been forcibly displaced”.
The minister replied: “There are two parts to this. The first is the displacement of those who have suffered from the appalling and atrocious attacks by Boko Haram, and the only real solution to people being able to go back to an area where the infrastructure has been destroyed is a long-term political solution. We are assisting the Government of Nigeria, particularly from the security point of view. With regard to the conflict over land because of desertification, and the issue of the Fulani and the farmers, there is a government Bill currently before the Nigerian parliamentary system to establish grazing reserves, routes and cattle ranches. It is important that that Bill takes into account fully all the sensitivities of both farmers and herdsmen”.
The UK government’s official position seems to be on the same side as the Nigerian government – a lot of warm words and very little tangible action to check the menace caused by herders traipsing across farmlands and their cattle destroying crops.
Grazing reserves and routes would not solve this problem, assuming the Bill is passed – something very unlikely considering the amount of legislators opposed to it.