President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of ongoing killings linked to herdsmen has drawn heavy concerns from members of the United Kingdom House of Lords.
The senior lawmakers at the upper chamber of the British Parliament said the latest killings in Plateau State have placed Nigeria’s collective existence on the edge, calling on Mr Buhari to take immediate steps to address the crisis rather than paying lip service to random incidents with press statements.
“Despite the herder militia taking more lives during 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, President Buhari, who belongs to the same ethnic group, has been accused of turning a blind eye,” a member, Denis Tunnicliffe, said during a debate on the herdsmen crisis June 28.
“Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, I cannot see much practical action that has been taken to end the violence, which has emboldened perpetrators even further,” another lawmaker David Alton said while opening the debate.
“Moreover, in the light of such an inadequate response thus far, communities will begin—and indeed already are beginning—to feel that they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice, and a few take matters into their own hands,” Mr Alton added.
The lawmakers debated on a report by the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which found that 1,061 people were killed in 106 attacks linked to herdsmen between January and April.
In her contribution, Elizabeth Berridge expressed misgivings about continuous classification of the killings as farmers-herders clashes, saying a pattern has emerged that contradicts such narrative.
“It is surely too simplistic to label these deaths as driven solely by desertification and competition for resources,” Ms Berridge said. “While there have been attacks by Fulani herdsmen on Muslim farmers in Zamfara State, these are overwhelmingly outnumbered by attacks on Christians.”
Ms Herridge said there are strong indications to hold that terrorist elements, perhaps including Boko Haram, are involved in the killings.
“Religious polarisation and extremism have helped to escalate violence in Nigeria to a greater degree than in other countries in the region. An existing conflict such as this and a strong ethno-religious identity has bought Fulani groups into wider jihadi movements, such as the largely Fulani terrorist group, FLM, which has joined with Islamic State.
“The FLM is apparently now seeking to bring the herdsmen’s grievances from Nigeria within its scope. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree that there has been an escalation in Nigeria of late? What do they believe are the causes and what is the extent of Boko Haram’s role in this?
“Are Boko Haram militants part of these attacks? It might explain the numerous reports, outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of attacks with no cattle in sight,” she said.
All the nine lawmakers who contributed to the debate said the UK government should work closely with Nigerian authorities in finding solutions to the crisis, but aid must urgently be provided to the victims of the killings, especially in Benue, Plateau and Taraba States, where the attacks are more pronounced.
While intermediate solutions to the crisis are being explored, Mr Buhari should review forthwith the current security lineup and equip all operatives, they said.
“I know that finding solutions is complex, but there is nothing to stop the Minister calling on the Government of Nigeria to recalibrate security arrangements and to resource their forces as a matter of urgency, in order to offer sufficient protection to vulnerable communities,” Mr Alton added.
Calls for Mr Buhari to sack his security chiefs have gone for more than a year, but they intensified in the wake of killings that greeted the country this year. Following last weekend’s killing of over 100 in Plateau, Senate President Bukola Saraki joined those calling on the president to concede that his security appointees have failed.
“This is not something to be politicised,”Mr Saraki said weekend. “If somebody is not capable and cannot do what he has to do, let others have the opportunity to do it.”
Presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina did not return PREMIUM TIMES requests for comments. His colleague, Garba Shehu, said the House of Lords debate occurred more than three days ago and had already been commented on by Nigerians. He declined to give official reaction on the administration’s makes of the scathing session at Westminster.
Mr Buhari insists his security chiefs are capable, and his officials have said a large proportion of the crisis is being sponsored by opposition politicians. The military has also made similar claims, but no one under the administration has presented evidence in support.
The president also strongly rejected allegations that he had been deliberately lenient about the herdsmen carnage, insisting that herdsmen are not known to carry sophisticated weapons and, even if they do, he should not be adjudged complicit in handling the crisis
Charles Omole, a security analyst, said the position of the House of Lords only reechoes the observations Nigerians have made to the president’s handling of security matters over the past year.
” What the House of Lords said is not different from what the people in Nigeria have said at several fora over the past year,” Mr Omole told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday night. “The onus is now on the president to listen to the call of reason and retrace his steps for national peace.”
Mr Omole said the president has absolute powers to calibrate his security appointments, but his apparent reluctance to exercise them would continue to fuel conspiracy theories that he knew more about the killings than he is admitting.
“Nigeria’s president is one of the most powerful presidents in the world. When somebody who has the power to hire is beginning to sound powerless, then it gives a cause for concern.”
“The questions are whether he just doesn’t want to act or whether he is indeed powerless. If he doesn’t want to act, then it means he is just lying to the people and he actually knows more about this.
“But if he is indeed powerless, then it means there is something impeding him from act, especially if someone has something on him or not. Otherwise, he should have acted long before now.”
Before Mr Saraki’s latest call for the sack of security chiefs, the Nigerian Senate had called for Mr Buhari to sack Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris. The police chief was accused of incompetence and vindictiveness, including handling law enforcement in a partisan manner.
Mr Idris was summoned four times to appear before Senate to brief lawmakers on the daily carnage being reported across the country, but he declined each time. He accused the lawmakers of being on his witch-hunt because the police were prosecuting some lawmakers for various offences.
The matter reached a peak in May, when lawmakers declared Mr Idris an enemy of democracy and repeated their position that he was not fit for office. Mr Buhari rejected all pressures from the parliament to do away with Mr Idris, and the president recently gave a nod for Mr Saraki himself to be arrested for alleged murder.
Earlier in March, the president openly admitted the police IG flouted his directive to move to Benue for a hands-on approach to the security crisis. Even after the presidency announced that Mr Idris was queried for the insubordination, the police countered the claim and challenge administration officialsto provide evidence of such query.
While the conduct of Mr Idris was troubling enough, Mr Omole said what he found most disturbing was the president’s decision to extend the tenures of the military chiefs even after they attained retirement stage.
“The Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defense Staff should have retired,” Mr Omole said. “But this president extended their tenure.”
“You would have thought that they were doing some brilliant work for the country, but clearly we can see that they are not delivering for the people,” the analyst said. “It is completely unthinkable what is going on, it doesn’t make any sense what the president is doing and that is what gives room for people to be make conclusions.”
“You extend flout regulations to keep people in office only when they have done an excellent job,” he said. “When things that are inexplicable begin to happen, it gives room for conjection from people.”
But the president’s supporters said allegations of his incompetence or complicity are unfounded and are being peddled out of ignorance.
“It is unfortunate that the British House of Lords is making this comments, but they may be speaking out of ignorance because they are not on ground here,” said Ken Eluma-Asogwa, South-east coordinator of the Buhari Campaign Organisation.
“When people accuse the president of not acting, I see most of them as acting out of ignorance. When the president tried to procure arms earlier this year, there was a barrage of attacks that followed it,” he said. “We know the president is serious about routing out the killers in those states.”
Mr Eluma-Asogwa said sacking security chiefs would leave no improvements on the country’s security challenges.
“Even if you sack them,and you fail to address the root causes, the matters will continue,” he said. “What would put paid to this crisis is a long term solution like ranching. He came in to meet this problem and he has sat down to study it and he is trying to sort it out.”