02/05/2021 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – When he took office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria promised to end the violence plaguing the nation. In his inauguration address, he promised to fight the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, rescue hostages out of the group’s hands, and crush what he called “the most immediate threat” to Nigeria.
Buhari’s speech also included an offhanded reference to the violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region where, since his speech, militant Fulani extremists have killed many thousands of civilians and government personnel. In fact, ICC analysis of the violence in Nigeria shows that the majority of civilian and government deaths in 2020 happened at the hands of Fulani militants rather than Boko Haram terrorists. Despite this fact, the government of Nigeria continues to largely ignore the Fulani crisis in favor of the more easily-defined terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.
In the years since Buhari promised to stamp out the violence in Nigeria, tens of thousands have died or been abducted and hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes. 1,900 civilians and government employees were killed by Boko Haram and Fulani militants in 2020 alone.
Buhari has taken several angles on the issue since becoming president. At the inauguration, he called Boko Haram the biggest threat facing the country. Since then, he has alternately declared complete victory over Boko Haram and appealed to the international community for assistance in fighting against it. Earlier this year, Buhari fired the heads of his armed forces in what many took to be an attempt to shift blame for the continued violence onto the military.
The violence in Nigeria will not soon disappear without a strong and coordinated response to the dual threats of Boko Haram and Fulani militants. The people of Nigeria are dying at a staggering rate, with civilian deaths concentrated among the Middle Belt’s vulnerable Christian farmer population. They are particularly vulnerable to the more mobile groups of Boko Haram and Fulani militants and will not be able to sustain their agrarian lifestyle without significantly more protection than they currently receive.
The international community plays a role in this conflict, wittingly or not. Research by the group Conflict Armament Research (CAR) proves that militant groups in the northern and central Nigeria use weapons and ammunition illegally smuggled into the country, and not only from surrounding countries but from around the world. This includes weapons manufactured in China and brought into Nigeria through Côte d’Ivoire and weapons smuggled into the country directly from Turkey.
Several thousand Turkish firearms were seized upon entry in the southern Nigerian port city of Lagos in 2017, but Turkish weapons documented by CAR in the north prove that other weapons entered the country from Turkey unnoticed. CAR notes that “major European shipping companies have unwittingly transferred large-scale weapon shipments” into Nigeria.
The international community takes the issue of illegal arms smuggling seriously, but it must do more to stop the flow of arms entering Nigeria. Without a coordinated international response, Nigeria will not be able to stop the violence tearing it apart. This response must include a recognition of the major threat posed by Fulani militants. And not only from outside the country—if long-term peace is to be achieved, Buhari must own up to his own failures and acknowledge the true nature of the enemies claiming the lives of so many of his citizens.
For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: email@example.com.