Nigeria and Religious Conflcit

3 July 2020

Whilst Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa, ethnic and cultural divisions continue to spark violence throughout the country. Rampant inequality has led to certain regions, particularly the North East, falling behind the rest of the country in terms of development. Strong economic growth has not translated into improved living standards for the majority of the population. 

It is against this backdrop that violent groups have sprung up, the most well known of which being Boko Haram. Another such group is the Fulani herdsmen, who engage in ideologically inspired violence across the country. 

The Fulani are an ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 west and central African countries. In the last four to five years, growing numbers of Fulani have adopted a new land-grabbing policy – motivated by an extremist belief system and equipped with sophisticated weaponry – which has led to thousands of people massacred and to the permanent displacement of vulnerable rural communities. While tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic herders have existed for centuries, recent attacks suggest a worrying trend: the Fulani’s military capability and ideological fervour are increasing.

The underlying drivers of this conflict are complex. Competition for resources, poor land management by the Nigerian government, climate change, exponential population growth, and insecurity all play their part. However, targeted violence against predominantly Christian communities suggests that religion and ideology play a key part. Amnesty International estimates that up to October 2018 approximately 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured and 5,000 homes burnt down in clashes between predominantly ethnic Muslim Fulani herders and Christian farmers. HART quotes reliable reports that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths since 2015.

The Mai Adiko Peace Project, supported by HART, initiated by the Anglican Diocese of Jos, aims to build peace by bringing together members of the Christian and Muslim communities. It provides teaching, equipment, meeting space, and loans to women and young people, enabling them to generate income. Educational activities, including computer and literacy classes, are also provided to young people. The project provides a crucial space for peoples from both the Christian and the Muslim communities to meet through a broad range of activities, including skill sharing, training, sporting competitions, and the generation of small businesses.

Whilst small projects like this are helping to mend these dangerous divisions, the Nigerian government remains largely inactive in addressing the violence caused by community conflict.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief of which Baroness Cox is Co-Chair recently launched a new report in Westminster entitled, Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide? The report found that Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence explicitly exacerbated by religious ideology, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders resulting in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands.

The report is available in full here:

To read more about The Mai Adiko Peace Project, click here:

By Abbie Brooks

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