By Philip Agbese
The June 2020 launch of a report entitled “Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?” by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Parliament of the United Kingdom should be of concern to Nigerians and of course the Federal Government. The report concluded that there is an ongoing genocide against Christians and minority ethnic groups in Nigeria with lines like “The APPG’s inquiry found that Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders resulting in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands.”
Our worry here should not be about the alarm of genocide, which is false. We should rather be concerned that the descendants of people, who once raped the African continent through slavery, forced conversions, exploitation of human and material resources, are back trying to continue in the steps of their forefathers by defining for us what we should accept as our reality. If they succeed in doing this, then they will again succeed in turning us against each other for their own advantage.
To be clear, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is a grouping in the Parliament of the United Kingdom that is composed of members of parliament from all political parties. The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief is therefore across political divides so the views they expressed cannot be dismissed as being that of narrow interest. Its members are not riff-raffs being the representatives of the people, which means they speak for their country and it is, therefore, safe to attribute the views expressed in their report to their country.
That report is tragic because of its implied intention; a desire to add sectarian strife to the foreign-backed horror show we are already subjected to on a daily basis. The APPG report practically trivialized the killings by Boko Haram, Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), bandits, transhumance related violence manifesting as a farmers-herders crisis, communal clashes and even street gangs related violence as being directed at exterminating Christians.
I am a Christian and an activist with a human rights background, which makes the views expressed by these parliamentarians repulsive to me. Everyone should feel bad that anyone would be killed in their own country, people should be safe anywhere and no one’s life should be cut short for any reason. This much was captured by John Donne when he said, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
The current reality is that Nigerians are being killed by the aforementioned criminal elements. It is not only Christians or Muslims that have been murdered in our country; animists, agnostics, atheists and persons of diverse creeds have met violent ends at the hands of people running errands of dark forces. APPG’s attempt to weaponize or justify any kind of killings on religious biases is, however, a disservice to God and humanity and will in no way advance religion or belief.
Most of the input into the APPG report derived from compromised reports authored by organizations that have not been able to conceal their vested interests while its interviews were with a persona pursuing blends of sectarian and ethnic agenda. This is a recipe for distortion and the report was promptly contorted beyond comprehension, which perhaps tallied with what the APPG wants in the first place as could be seen from the additional spin-offs that have been made from that document.
Had the group made the efforts to get at the facts or were it less jaundiced by its desired outcome, it would have been able to report the details that are known to the victims of these attacks and survivors. There have been instances when attacks seemed to have been targeted at Christians only for the contrary to emerge upon further interrogation or investigation of the matter. For instance, when gunmen killed 13 worshipers at a mass on Sunday, August 6, 2017, at Amakwa Ozubulu, in Ekwusogo Local Government Area of Anambra State, the initial belief was that the attackers were Boko Haram terrorists.
It took weeks after misdirected anger and dangerous ethnoreligious tension to discover that what people thought was not the case. Great Chinedu Akpunonu (44), Vincent Ike (57), Chukwudi Ugwu (30) and Onyebuchi Mbanefo (46) were arraigned for that heinous crime in the house of God; they were neither members of the Boko Haram terror group neither are they Fulani; they are mercenaries sent to kill their own kinsmen as part of a drug war that spilt over from South Africa.
In May 2018, in two separate incidents, the police arrested suspected gunrunners for the murderous elements killing people in Benue-Taraba axis. The first suspect was 36 years old Morris Ashwe from Mbajima Village in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State, who confessed and admitted supplying firearms and ammunition to the notorious and most wanted vicious and notorious gang leader of the militia, murderers and kidnappers Terwase Akwaza aka Gana. Similarly, Kabiru Idris, Miracle Emmanuel and Husseini Safiyanu were arrested in Taraba State with five AK47 rifles, 13 AK47 Magazines, 83 Rounds of AK47. They confessed to have supplied other firearms and ammunition to Militia groups, armed bandits and other criminals that have been attacking and killing innocent people in villages in Taraba and Benue States. Note should be made of the identity and names of the arrested suspects.
In the northwest, where bandits have attacked communities, killed people and plunder their resources, the victims are across religious divides, too, even though a larger number of them were Muslims. It will be interesting to see how the APPG report reflected on that since it is not impossible for these killings to have been classified as the mass murder of Christians.
However, the above scenarios are not meant to distract from the fact that Boko Haram, bandits and other criminal elements violently deprive others of their lives. Rather, it is to point out the risk of misleading people to cultivate hatred for others along sectarian and ethnic lines because some foreigners decided to frame conversations in manners that turn Nigerians against each other.
The other fallacy in the APPG report is the claim that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is permitting genocide against Christians in Nigeria. This is not true and it is a false claim that should be condemned by all. First, on the basis of the foregoing, Nigerians are being killed and it is not about the creed of the victim but about the unwarranted loss of human lives. Secondly, there is no record that security was ever prioritized for Muslim enclaves to the detriment of Christian areas. The efforts to address the challenge of insecurity in the country has been wide-sweeping.
Thirdly, there continue to be efforts to curtail the activities of the criminal elements killing people in different parts of the country. Only a few days ago, the Joint Military Troops of Operation Whirl Stroke arrested seven persons in connection with the massacre of over 13 persons in Apa Local Government Area of Benue State. The army had in the preceding week arrested informants for bandits, gunrunners and also killed some of them in operations to rid the country of these criminals. The war against terrorism is also on course with Boko Haram members being pushed continually into the desert.
The APPG is right that there is a genocide, but it is not along a religious line. It is a pogrom targeted at Nigerians irrespective of their ethnicity or religion, a pogrom that no APPG has attempted to call a halt on. At the helm of that genocide unfolding in Nigeria are the very members of the APPG.
They are part of decisions that promote instability in the Middle East and North Africa, the source of some of the weapons and fighters that flood into the Lake Chad Basin and have kept Boko Haram’s campaign of terror going. Had President Buhari been indifferent, like members of that group want to believe, more Nigerians would have been killed. So, it is fair to ask that the APPG at the very least acknowledge that the President and the Nigerian military have against all odds prevented the kind of catastrophe that analysts had projected for the country as a result of the activities of certain countries that directly and indirectly impact Nigeria.
Still, one will not ask the APPG not to meddle in Nigeria’s affairs since it will, anyways. The fair demand to make on the group is for it to leverage its clout for mobilizing and galvanizing support for Nigeria’s capacity to respond to the hydra security challenges being compounded by external and other factors. It should, for instance, prevail on the United Kingdom to review its foreign policy in a way that prevents terrorists from getting support, which includes addressing the chaos that resulted from meddling in the Middle East and North Africa. It should also canvass for Nigeria to get support in terms of military equipment and hardware to fight those that are depriving citizens of their lives.
The greatest support that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief in the parliament of the United Kingdom, can lend, however, is to desist from contributing to the propaganda efforts of terrorists through the publication of reports that distort reality. Every Nigerian life matters. APPG should not put lives at risk by provoking sectarian strife.
Agbese is a human rights activist and law graduate of the Middlesex University London.