A letter by the UK lawmakers on the killings taking place in Nigeria has left the presidency fuming.
The Nigerian presidency has lambasted Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff over claims that Nigeria's armed forces are colluding with armed groups to kill and massacre ethnic groups in the country.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu on Thursday stated that Danjuma is not “a natural source of pressure for good governance”.
He was reacting to the letter by UK lawmakers to the Commonwealth on the killings of Christians in Nigeria.
The legislators disclosed that they met and spoke to Danjuma who told them that the country’s Armed Forces “are not neutral”, and that they “collude in ethnic cleansing”.
The lawmakers in a letter dated September 14, addressed to Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said failure of the Federal Government to protect Nigerians was a breach of its obligations under the Commonwealth Charter.
Referencing a report by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, the lawmakers said thousands of civilians have been killed and that “elements of the Nigerian government may be complicit in violence”.
The lawmakers asked that a probe be carried out into the killings and at the least ensure “adequate protection and aid for those suffering the loss of family members and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods.’’
The letter which said some of the signatories had met and spoken with Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma, retd, quoted news reports attributed to him to the effect that the armed forces are not neutral and that they collude in the ethnic cleansing in riverine states by Fulani herders.
“He insists that villagers must defend themselves because ‘depending on the armed forces’ will result in them dying ‘one by one’. The ethnic cleansing must stop,” it quoted Danjuma as saying.
It however conceded that the signatories “recognize the important distinction between the Fulani in general (a diverse group of millions of people with hundreds of clans) and the sub-group of well armed, radicalized Fulani who carry out attacks.”
The letter, titled “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?” read: “We write to highlight urgent concerns about escalating violence in Nigeria, where attacks, led by Boko Haram, Fulani herders and other Islamist militia continue in northern and central-belt states, with reports of increasing violence in the South-East.
“The state’s failure to protect its citizens is a clear breach of its obligations under the Commonwealth Charter in respect of human rights.
“There is now an urgent need to ensure adequate protection and aid for those suffering the loss of family members and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods, and to end impunity by ensuring that complaints related to human rights violations are promptly, independently, and impartially investigated and those responsible are held to account after fair trials.”
The parliamentarians further asked that the issue be raised with the Commonwealth ministerial action group.
“We write, therefore, to ask whether you are able to respond on behalf of the Commonwealth and to raise these urgent concerns with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. We would be very willing to meet in person (or perhaps more practically online via zoom) to discuss how we might proceed,’’ the lawmakers stated.
However, while reacting without mentioning the former General’s name, Shehu said during religious and ethnic riots in two states in 2001 and 2002, Nigerians “were violently and ruthlessly put down by the military under his authority”.
This, he noted, caused the deaths “of thousands of lives and the displacement of some further 50,000 persons.”
Shehu wrote: “It is 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.”
Shehu also accused the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) of embarking on a global campaign against Nigeria.
“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 is 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”, Shehu added.