, 23 November, 2020 / 8:20 PM
The international community looking to assist Nigeria in the fight against terrorist attacks can help by boosting the country’s security forces, the leadership of a religious conflict resolution organization working in the West African country has said.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr. Blaise Agwon who is the Director of Catholic-founded Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP Centre) in Jos, Nigeria, said the country’s security forces are already “overwhelmed” in the fight against militant groups.
“I feel the best way the international community can help Nigeria is in the area of security. This is because the security agencies are overwhelmed by the security challenges facing Nigeria,” Fr. Blaise told ACN in a report published by the Pontifical charity organization on Monday, November 23.
According to the Catholic Cleric, security forces in Nigeria need more and better equipment, communication equipment, and transportation among other resources in order to effectively tackle terrorist activities, which he said, has so far claimed over 20,000 lives in the Northern part of the country.
In the country’s Northcentral region alone, over 1,000 have been killed in the last five years, the official at the church-based peace initiative said.
Making reference to the country’s security agencies, Fr. Blaise went on to say, “The government also needs to increase the budget allocation of those agencies and also increase the recruitment of personnel and also improve their welfare so as to boost their morale.”
In the ACN interview, the Nigerian Priest who is currently conducting research on conflict and peace management with the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies at the University of Jos said that the conflict in the country’s Middle Belt region is more a resource conflict than a religious one.
“The conflict in the Middle Belt may appear as a religious conflict because it is between the herdsmen who are predominantly Muslim and the farmers who are predominantly Christian. However, it is more of a resource conflict than a religious one,” said Fr. Blaise.
In the Cleric’s considered opinion, it is only the religious fault line that makes the conflict appear as a religious conflict. However, he said, it is a resource-based conflict mainly over land and water for farming and grazing.
Fr. Blaise further said that publicizing the notion that Muslim Fulani herdsmen are attacking Christians in Nigeria is dangerous.
“There is the danger of stigmatization against the Fulani where all of them are referred to as jihadists because of the evil deeds of a few even when the majority of them are very good, peaceful and industrious people,” the Cleric said.
He added, “It is true that many people have died as a result of these atrocities. It is also believed that jihadists or mercenaries from other countries, especially Mali, have also been responsible for some of the atrocities taking place in the North. However, it would be wrong to claim that the atrocities are only targeted at the Christians.”
Such a claim, he said, is not only wrong, but uncharitable since “Muslims have suffered from those attacks just as Christians have suffered.”
“States like Zamfara, Yobe and Katsina are over 90% Muslim, yet so many of them have suffered in the hands of those bandits,” The Catholic Cleric told ACN, highlighting some predominantly Muslim areas that have fallen under insurgency.
He added, “Even Katsina, the President’s own state which is also over 95% Muslim has not been spared. In fact, the village of the president has been attacked and villages have been burnt down completely severally.”
“And also in Kaduna, both Christians and Muslims have suffered alike. I am told that people can hardly go to the farm in Zaria, Kaduna because of the activities of bandits, and most of the people in Zaria are Muslims,” Fr. Blaise further said.
The Priest was probed on whether it is true that most of the crimes are being done by herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic group.
“It’s true that the Fulani herdsmen are deeply involved in perpetrating crimes in the North and especially in the Middle Belt region, but it is not all the Fulani that are involved,” he responded.
The Nigerian Priest noted that there are many groups from the local ethnic tribes that are also involved in criminality, banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling. Some of these groups, he said, have even formed militia groups.
“In fact, there are some of the Fulani that have formed criminal gangs with the local Christian groups and are terrorizing both the Fulani and the local ethnic groups,” the official of the Church-based peace initiative revealed, and added, “Thus, most of what is happening is more of criminality and also a conflict over resources.”
So far, there are about 2.5 million internally displaced persons in North Eastern Nigeria, 680,000 in Cameroon and over 294,000 refugees in Chad and Niger owing to terrorism in Northern Nigeria.
Killings have also been recorded in thousands, with other organizations “inflating” the numbers for reasons that Fr. Blaise highlighted in his interview with the Catholic aid organization ACN.
“There is serious politics in the reports because different groups keep on inflating their figures so as to attract both local and international sympathy,” said the Cleric whose investigations at the University of Jos is dubbed, “Conflict between farmers and herders in the middle belt region and the mediation of third parties”.
“Sometimes, bandits also dress like soldiers when carrying out attacks,” he said, and added, “Because of all these factors, there are always accusations and counter accusations either between the Fulani and the local groups, between Christians and Muslims, or between farmers and herdsmen, so much so that the facts are beclouded.”
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