An invitation extended to Theophilus Danjuma by senior members of the United Kingdom Parliament to speak on the ongoing killings in central Nigeria has been postponed, organisers told Premium Times on Friday.
Members of the British House of Lords, which is the upper house of that country’s parliament, invited Mr Danjuma, a former chief of army staff, to address them on September 5 on the violence that has claimed over 1,500 civilians this year alone. But two days since the date passed, there was no indication that it held or any information about why it failed to hold.
A widely circulated announcement of the programme said Mr Danjuma would address the House of Lords on whether Nigeria faces an existential threat with the large-scale killings that have also seen hundreds of thousands villagers displaced across several states along the Benue River.
Also invited to speak alongside Mr Danjuma was Ben Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the capital of Plateau State where hundreds have been killed in attacks linked to herdsmen this year alone. They were invited by David Alton and Caroline Cox, both life peers from Liverpool and Queensbury, respectively.
“The event was postponed, which is why there have been no reports about it and no record of the event appears on the UK Parliament website,” a spokesperson for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which coordinated the event and circulated invitations, told Premium Times in an e-mail Friday afternoon.
The CSW said no new date has been determined after the postponement, adding that Mr Alton, as the UK official responsible for the event, “would be best placed to answer any questions about when it is likely to take place.”
Mr Alton could not be reached for comments Friday night. Messages and telephone calls to Mr Danjuma were not immediately returned Friday night.
Mr Danjuma’s botched appearance was to hold two days after 11 people were killed and a dozen wounded in an overnight attack on Plateau communities. A similar violence in another Plateau local government had killed several residents only four days earlier.
The assaults on the communities underscore the protraction of the violence in central Nigeria, although overall killings have reduced in intensity across the region in recent weeks.
Mr Danjuma, a one-time defence minister from Taraba State where hundreds have been killed by suspected herdsmen, is amongst the prominent senior citizens from the region who are becoming increasingly outraged by the violence.
In March, he accused the Nigerian armed forces, especially the Nigerian Army and the police, of complicity in the deadly violence, warning residents across the lush plains of Benue River to arm themselves or risk being incrementally wiped off.
“The armed forces are not neutral,” Mr. Danjuma said at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University in Jalingo March 24. “They collude with the armed bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians.”
The comments sent ripples through the country’s security circles, and also placed top officials of the Buhari administration on immediate defensive.
The military said it took the allegations seriously, coming from a retired lieutenant general who hardly comments publicly on issues. The military, however, denied the allegations.
The Nigerian Army promptly set up a panel, which it said comprised human rights advocates and own personnel, to probe the allegations. The panel absolved the military of conspiring to kill citizens as alleged by Mr Danjuma in a report submitted about two months later in May.
In late June, the House of Lords held a session about the killings in Nigeria, with many lawmakers, including Mr Alton, alleging that the killings bored the markings of a coordinated effort to chase Christian residents from their ancestral communities across central Nigeria.
“Despite the herder militia taking more lives during 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, President Buhari, who belongs to the same ethnic group, has been accused of turning a blind eye,” a member, Denis Tunnicliffe, said during a debate on the herdsmen crisis June 28.
“Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, I cannot see much practical action that has been taken to end the violence, which has emboldened perpetrators even further,” Mr Alton said in his contribution at the time.
The Nigerian government did not respond to the scathing June 28 session at the House of Lords.
But Mr Buhari has always insisted his security chiefs are capable, and his officials have said a large proportion of the crisis is being sponsored by opposition politicians. The military has also made similar claims, but no one under the administration has presented evidence in support.
The president also strongly rejected allegations that he had been deliberately lenient about the herdsmen carnage, insisting that herdsmen are not known to carry sophisticated weapons and, even if they do, he should not be adjudged complicit in handling the crisis. Several measures, including creation of cattle ranches and dialogue conferences, had been taken by Mr Buhari’s government to curb the killings.