This article is part of our special report Europe’s role in stopping Nigeria’s ‘silent slaughter’.
As different global crises jostle for the international limelight more than ever, a humanitarian disaster intensifies in Nigeria, gaining little attention among the international community and suffering crucially from the inaction of the country’s own federal government.
The International Organization for Peace Building and Social Justice (PSJ) is a Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) which exists to promote peace building and social justice in Nigeria.
This crisis has been marked by unrelenting violence, perpetrated by extremists such as Fulani militants, Boko Haram or the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) against predominantly Christian and ethnic minorities, but also any other religious group refusing to surrender to their terror. In the 2019 Global Terrorism Index Nigeria ranks 3rd between Iraq and Syria as the countries most impacted by terrorism, with the Islamic State terrorist group finding an ally in Boko Haram. This fact nonetheless seems to have escaped Europe’s collective consciousness. Meanwhile a crisis rages in Africa’s most populous country – the EU’s 4th biggest trading partner on the continent – plaguing its most vulnerable communities with an ever-mounting body count.
The human cost of the crisis has been considerable and extensive. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies estimates that since 2001, 60,000 lives have been lost to the violence. As with any major conflict, large-scale displacement (over 2,5 million are currently internally displaced in Nigeria) and a high poverty rate has ensued. Internal displacements have been further worsened by the inevitable effect of the climate emergency, overpopulation and food insecurity in the West African sub-region. Some of the consequences include exponential external effects with capabilities to massively activate regional instability and mass migration.
Devastation of this magnitude is hard to imagine or comprehend, but the consequences for victims remain very real. Victoria Daniel recounts through an interpreter how she and her children stayed in hiding during an attack on her village on June 26th 2018. “When I came out I found everybody dead”, her husband and other family members among the estimated 86 killed. Now “we are in internal displacement camps and the only source of help is from NGOs from time to time.”
Recent statistics show a consistent trend in the attacks. A spate of intense attacks in January triggered an emergency resolution from the European Parliament. Commissioner Lenarčič announced an emergency aid package of €26.5 million during his visit to Nigeria, and a statement made on behalf of High Representative Borrell in front of the European Parliament expressed deep concern for the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation.
The violence takes place against a backdrop of historical-cultural tension and has long manifested in conflict over land-use. According to Professor Yusufu Turaki the attacks have become more prevalent due to the radicalised religious beliefs of the Fulani aggressors, and a perceived ethnic hierarchy introduced during Nigeria’s British colonial past. Professor Turaki is a founding Board member of an NGO seeking an end to the violence – The ‘International Organisation for Peace Building and Social Justice’ which this week launched its campaign, #silentslaughter in Brussels following a successful UK and US launch earlier this month. The campaign decries an apparent massive deficit in Nigeria of federal leadership, and a systematic lack of preventative action so severe that it borders on complicity. With Nigeria’s highly disproportionate balance of political power and wealth further exacerbating the conflict, peacebuilding requires challenging the status quo and speaking truth to power.
In February, EU diplomats met with Nigerian officials at an annual human rights dialogue, finding the time to address pre-agreed human rights issues in “a technical session that lasted for almost four hours”. Meanwhile, in February alone, the #silentslaughter campaign’s incident tracker recorded 221 killings, 64 abductions and 38 injuries as a result of the crisis. In the case of Nigeria only so much can be achieved through the traditional channels of high diplomacy.
Our elected representatives and lawmakers in the EU must join in calling for effective preventative action from President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, but also for the continued vocal support of local NGOs and civic society on the ground. Solving these deeply rooted internal issues will require the facilitation of many interethnic and interfaith dialogues. To put this mildly, Nigerian society is in great distress, but at its grassroots are those best equipped to build the bridges necessary to turn the tide on the violence. The international community must answer their call for help.
As Brussels turns its attention to Africa, with the publication of the Commission’s EU-Africa strategy and anticipated conclusion later this year of the replacement to the Cotonou Agreement, the moment is opportune for the EU to advocate for lasting peace in Nigeria.