The Presidency on Friday faulted last Monday’s report by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief (APPG) which accused the federal government of allowing armed Islamist groups to kill, maim and displace Christians, through a systematic cleansing.
Government said the APPG report was a misrepresentation of issues in Nigeria.
In the report entitled ‘Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?’, the group had said : “attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians.
“Thousands of civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust report that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, ‘in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths since 2015.’
“Amnesty International estimate that between January 2016 and October 2018 ‘at least 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured [and] 5,000 houses burnt down.
Local groups, such as the Christian Association of Nigeria, report higher figures: between January and June 2018, over 6,000 people were killed by Fulani herders.”
“These factors are compounded by the Nigerian Government’s failure to respond adequately to the violence, to protect communities or to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.
“These issues need to be addressed if we are to save lives and improve the welfare of civilians and the report makes many recommendations about how this can be done.”
But in a statement responding to the position of the organisation, the Presidency countered the claims of lack of readiness by the federal government to respond to the violent happenings, primarily involving the terror group, Boko Haram and the herders and farmers’ conflict.
But responding to the allegations on Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said tensions have always existed over the years in Nigeria between “our major religions, Christianity and Islam – and between herders and farmers – both for access to ever-decreasing arable and farmland due to a rapidly rising population, temperatures and desertification through global warming.
He said: “Exacerbating those tensions, our nation has also been in recent times and focused within the northern states – subject to vicious and criminal attacks by the terror group Boko Haram.
“In concert with our American and British allies, Nigeria’s military have pushed back the terrorists and largely reduced their capacity over the last five years compared to the previous decade.
“Boko Haram have targeted Christians and Churches specifically because they know it drives forward religious and land tensions already existent in the country. Similarly, they attack mosques and Muslims in order to issue the threat: radicalise, or become targets yourselves.”
Shehu spoke on efforts to end the conflicts,saying: “in the months and years ahead, our President who is Muslim and our Vice President who is an evangelical Christian pastor are irrevocably committed to addressing these multiple and long-term challenges for today’s and future generations.”
These, according to him,include ensuring peaceful coexistence, sustained fight against Boko Haram, negotiations on landholding , inter-faith dialogues ,”continuing and increasing Nigeria’s efforts alongside our allies to fully defeat and finally finish Boko Haram, in order to bring security to the north of the country
“Continuing to seek, negotiate for, and secure the return of all those held hostage and in captivity by the terrorists, regardless of the religious faith or belief.
“Uniting our nation through dialogue organised around respect for difference in religion. Such a programme is already underway under the leadership of the Vice President, Pastor Yemi Osinbajo.
“Addressing, through Joint Federal and State Governments programmes, access to arable farmland – with land mandated both for farmers and herders. The federal government will issue detailed measures regarding this plan and its rollout in the coming weeks
“Countering fake news – particularly on social and digital media – by working with the non-partisan stakeholder community, the National Broadcasting Commission and social media platforms themselves, to address the proliferation of false and inflammatory commentary.
“The President and Government have and will at all times work with those – both within and without Nigeria – with a concern for the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Government invited members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to Nigeria to “see for themselves the work that is going on to promote these fundamental rights of our citizens.”