Christian advocacy groups have welcomed a new report by a UK parliamentary group which highlights the escalating violence in Nigeria involving Fulani Muslim herdsmen and predominently Christian farmers

The report, released in London on Monday, cites figures showing that thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence with estimates from the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust stating that more than 1,000 Christians were killed between January and November last year, adding to the more than 6,000 killed since 2015.

It also cites data from the International Crisis Group estimating that more than 300,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with terror group Boko Haram. Figures from Mercy Corps show that the violence is costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.

The work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, the report - Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? - notes a range of factors are behind the violence including competition for natural resources, the inability of the Nigerian Government to provide security, the flow of firearms into the country and misinformation.

It also cites the influence of Islamic extremism across the Sahel region, noting that while "not necessarily sharing an identical vision, some Fulani herders have adopted a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State in West Africa Province] and demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches."

"The APPG received numerous reports that Christian pastors and community heads are specifically targeted," the report states. "During many of the attacks, herders are reported by survivors to have shouted ‘Allah uAkbar’, ‘destroy the infidels’ and ‘wipe out the infidels'. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, including over 500 churches in Benue State."

It goes on to detail numerous incidents in which armed groups of Muslim Fulani herdsmen have led attacks on Christian communities resulting in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands.

One survivor describes an attack on four Christian farming villages in the Ropp district, Plateau State, in which 21 people were killed. "They were trained terrorists with guns," he is quoted as saying. "They killed those who couldn’t run – the aged, the children and the blind. A pastor was their first casualty. They surrounded him. They killed him and then they rejoiced, shouting ‘Allah uAkbar’ and ‘we have got a hero’." 

Others described attacks in which people, including children, were hacked to death by machetes or shot, homes and other buildings including a hospital, looted and burned, and people kidnapped.

The report makes a wide range of recommendations for the Nigerian Government and international community including holding perpetrators to account, disarming militians, resourcing police and working with religious leaders to promote interreligious dialogue and reconciliation.

Welcoming the report, Mervyn Thomas, the CEO of religious freedom advocacy CSW, said the organisation received almost daily reports from Nigeria "detailing the most appalling violence against innocent civilians".

"[A]nd yet the governments of affected states and the federal government have failed woefully in fulfilling their responsibility to protect vulnerable villagers, to address the threat posed by these and other armed non state-actors, and to bring perpetrators of this violence to justice," he said in a statement.

"In addition, there has been a regrettable failure on the part of the international community to hold the Nigerian authorities to account for their negligence in addressing violence that is decimating communities, claiming thousands of lives and driving people groups from their ancestral homes. We hope that this report will serve as a wake-up call, alerting the UK government and others of the need for swift and concrete action to bring this appalling human rights crisis to an end.”

Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International, noted the violence was not just about resources.

"This report acknowledges the religious dimension to much of the violence, which can no longer be ignored," he said. "This report shows these attacks can no longer be simplistically caricatured and written off as 'herder-farmer violence'."

He cited comments from the co-chair of the group, Baroness Cox, who is quoted in the report as saying: “While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources, as [the UK] Government have claimed.”