Claims of a Christian genocide in Nigeria were discounted by the Department of State’s recently published 2020 Country Report which cites land disputes and farmer-herder competition—not jihadism—as the driver of mass homicides in Nigeria’s North West states. The 17,000-word report posted March 30, 2021 spares just 200 words to explain close to 1,000 brutal murders in Nigeria’s Middle Belt during the last year.
“Land disputes, competition over dwindling resources, ethnic differences, and settler-indigene tensions contributed to clashes between herdsmen and farmers throughout the north-central part of the country,” according to “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria.”
The findings of the report contradicted stern warnings from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the International Committee on Nigeria, Save the Persecuted Christians, and nonprofit human-rights watchdogs. The U.S. Mission in Nigeria cites studies by United Nations think tanks and European newspapers to downplay the claims of genocide.
The tragedy of Nigeria is reduced in the report to a competition between herders and farmers that plagues the entire Sahel. “Ethnocultural and religious affiliation also contributed to and exacerbated some local conflicts. Nevertheless, many international organizations, including the International Crisis Group, assessed these divisions were incidental to the farmer-herder conflict,” the Report explained.
The U.S. Mission’s Reports drew a rebuke from the executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC), which has tracked atrocities against Christians closely.
“The paid-for fallacy of farmer-herder conflicts promoted by Nigerian lobbyists continue to enable Sharia apologists at the State Department and in the international community to excuse the [Muhammadu] Buhari regime for its wholesale failure to address religious-based violence and insecurity in Nigeria which by and large targets Christian communities with near-daily slaughter, rape, and abductions leading to enslavement,” Dede Laugesen told The Epoch Times in an email.
“It is true, however, that Christians and Muslims have all suffered at the hands of extremists operating with impunity in Nigeria,” she said. “Fulani militants, Boko Haram, and ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, all have the same goal—to exterminate or expel Christians from their traditional lands in the north and to implement strict adherence to Islam. There is no safe place for Christians in northern Nigeria. What is happening in Nigeria, we believe, is genocide.”
Under the heading of members of “National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups” the State Department 2020 Country Report noted systematic discrimination against Hausa and Fulani people without mentioning Christian farmers who figure prominently in reports of massacres.
“The predominantly Muslim and nonindigenous Hausa and Fulani faced significant discrimination from the local government in land ownership, jobs, access to education, scholarships, and government representation,” says the report.
“Fulani is mentioned twice in this report, but not how they are victimizing citizens in the middle-belt,” said Kyle Abts, a co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria, to The Epoch Times. “Somewhere in the past 10-20 years there has arisen a militant faction of herders who are Fulani. Unfortunately, the victims now are predominately Christians who are farmers,” said Abts, a former missionary to Nigeria.
The Report did not cover religious issues but linked to the International Religious Freedom Report published in June 2020. That earlier document was a mirror of the narrative deployed by the State Department regarding the longstanding crisis of killings in north-central Nigeria since 2015: “Numerous fatal clashes continued throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Fulani Muslim herders.”
Reports of eyewitnesses at dozens of nighttime raids in Kaduna and Plateau States, noted that large groups of men speaking the language of the Fulani ethnicity entered their compounds shouting “Allahu Akbar” and began slashing men, women, and children with machetes.
No graphic testimony of atrocities is included in the dry prose of the report, which assigned agency for the murder in the language of abstraction. As the report stated, “Scholars and other experts, including international NGOs, cited ethnicity, politics, religion, lack of accountability and access to justice, increasing competition over dwindling land resources, population growth, soil degradation, and internal displacement from crime and other forms of violence all as drivers contributing to the violence.”
The State Department Report of 2020 attempts to balance the claims of aggrieved Nigerian victims with competing claims that support the Nigerian government, which is headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, the top Fulani leader in West Africa, and scores of Fulani officials in the government agencies.
Readers learn that the U.K.-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), blames “Fulani militia” for murdering over 1,000 Christians throughout the year. HART concluded that religion and ideology were key factors behind “violence targeting predominantly Christian communities, the targeting of church leaders, and the destruction of hundreds of churches,” according to the U.S. Mission analysis.
Yet, the claim of Nigerian Christians is contextualized by counterclaims from a U.N. agency. “A study by the U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel noted that within the country, ‘there are many different Fulani clans, sub-clans, local Fulani cultures and dialects, and variations in herding practices.’”
The State Department has consulted “experts” who refute HART’s warnings of sectarian murder on a massive scale. “Experts stated there was no evidence to suggest the Fulani had an explicit Jihadist agenda or were mobilized behind a common ethnic agenda and noted there are between 30-40 million Fulani in Africa.”
Where there are disputes about the facts of murders, the State Department gives weight to the Nigerian government’s stance. “On February 10, on the eve of general elections, as many as 131 members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic group and 11 members of the predominantly Christian Adara ethnic group were reportedly killed and some 10,000 were internally displaced in clashes in Kajuru,” according to the State Department.
The source for this accusation is the controversial Gov. Nasir el-Rufai, a Fulani tribe member, who has the responsibility to enforce the law against bad actors of any ethnicity. However, by many accounts, the governor’s public accusation, which was never verified by photos of corpses or even graves, enflamed tensions between Muslims and Christians in his state.
“At the time of the governor’s accusation, even the local police chief could not endorse his claims of a massacre of Fulani’s, according to Gloria Ballason, a Kaduna-based human rights lawyer, speaking to The Epoch Times. “The government always has a skewed narrative to explain every atrocity.”
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.