The President and Government of Nigeria welcome the seriousness of the letter from UK lawmakers, legal experts and campaigners. We welcome the attention paid to this serious challenge by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and seek to work with you, the Commonwealth and all concerned parties to bring a lasting solution to herder-farmer clashes, and the threat posed to all Nigerians – and the Sahel region as a whole – from Boko Haram terrorists and their allies.
We ask our British colleagues to visit Nigeria, whether formally or informally to discuss all the points raised in their letter. Our government is made equally of Christian and Muslim cabinet members; our Vice President is an Evangelical Pastor. We have everything to gain as a country through international cooperation with concerned, senior British parliamentarians and policymakers. The threat to civilians and peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups from Boko Haram, banditry and land disputes is of serious concern to the President and the government. It is incorrect, however, to assert that the government has or is doing nothing to address these intertwined threats.
Firstly, there are on-going efforts for the establishment of cattle ranches to prevent or curtail open grazing, the practice that brings herders and farmers into conflict. This is an age-old problem facing Nigerian Governments since the colonial days. However, matters of land distribution are dealt with at state level. This means willingness has to be shown by state governors to drive the process forward. The Federal Government launched a plan last year to work with states to address these issues – together. Unfortunately, this has been lacking in some states.
Secondly, with regards to the long and determined battle waged against Boko Haram, Nigerians are aware of the efforts made by this Government. When the government came to power, the terrorist group held and administered an area the size of Belgium. Now they hold none. The terrorists are hiding out amongst remote forests and across borders. This makes it difficult to extinguish the final flames of the insurgency, and the government has no illusions of the potent threat still posed. However, the progress made cannot be denied.
Thirdly, in the face of rising crime and insecurity, the government’s new community policing initiative was launched this month. 10,000 new constables are being recruited from the areas they will safeguard – as opposed to past practice. The government hopes this will bring policing closer to local communities. N13 billion has been earmarked for this initiative.
At the same time as we take note of the lawmakers’ letter, it is also important to stress to our partners and colleagues in the United Kingdom that not all who press them have the best interests of either democratic governance or peaceful coexistence in mind. For example, the former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, named and quoted in the letter as a source on military matters, relinquished that position some 40 years ago – in 1979. He was last in a government position 17 years ago in 2003 (as Minister of Defence). At that time, religious and ethnic riots erupted in two states of the federation, (2001 and 2002), these were violently and ruthlessly put down by the military under his authority, leading to the loss of thousands of lives and the displacement of some further 50,000 persons. He is, therefore, not a natural source of pressure for good governance.
Another, signatory to the letter, is well-known to be associated with the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, a Nigerian-blacklisted terrorist group. The IPOB are running a well-known (source-of-financing-unknown) international campaign intended to damage the reputation of Nigeria and its government in order to further their cause of “independence”. He jumped bail in Nigeria. He frequently travels on a Nigerian passport but urged his supporters to burn their passports!The IPOB barely mention their aims in their publicity; neither do they mention that their own leadership do not claim to be Christian. Yet, their media and lobbying campaign has focused near-exclusively on promoting matters related to Christianity in Nigeria, promulgating false claims that a government with 50 per cent of its cabinet and 50 per cent of its State Governors who are Christian somehow works against Christians. We call on our British friends and colleagues to join us in addressing genuine solutions not pander to agents of anarchy.