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02/26/21 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – At a meeting of Nigerian state governors Thursday, Governor Kayode Fayemi underscored the importance of cooperation to successfully restore peace and security to a country long plagued by violence. “We need to come together as a country,” he stated. “Our first responsibility as governors is the security and welfare of our people.”

Governor Fayemi specifically referenced the problem of terrorism and “banditry” in his remarks, urging his fellow governors to work with each other and the federal government to come up with an effective response to these issues. Apparently absent from his calculus, though, is the role of religion in the conflict and the threat that radical Fulani militants pose to Christian communities, especially in the Middle Belt region.

President Mohammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on promises to end the threat posed by terrorists and bandits. He has seen some success on this front in the years since, and even declared victory over the Boko Haram terror group at one point. In light of a recent resurgence, though, he recently walked those comments back, quietly declaring a renewed state of emergency and releasing the heads of his armed forces for failing to end the violence.

At a separate meeting held elsewhere on Thursday, several northern and Middle Belt governors gathered with President Buhari to discuss recent developments. Responding to recent calls to exonerate “repentant” bandits, Buhari reiterated that his government will work to bring all criminals to justice and would not consider pardoning them.

Nigeria has dealt with significant internal violence for years, mostly at the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group and militant Fulani herdsmen. Tens of thousands have been killed or abducted by these two groups, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced.

1,900 civilians and government employees were killed by Boko Haram and Fulani militants in 2020 alone, according to ICC analysis of the situation. Much of the violence is concentrated in Christian-majority areas of the Middle Belt region.

ICC’s analysis shows that the majority of civilian and government deaths in 2020 happened at the hands of Fulani militants rather than Boko Haram terrorists or bandits. 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 and the simpler criminal threat posed by vaguely-defined bandits.

Governor Fayemi, President Buhari, and others are right that the crisis in Nigeria requires a serious, coordinated response. However, their ignoring of the element of religious persecution stymies their efforts. Ignoring the role of religion leads to mistakes, like ignoring the problem posed by Fulani militants. Until the full scope of the problem is understood by Nigeria’s state and federal governments, the solutions they propose will fall short.

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].