The latest case of violence carried out against mostly Christian farmers in central Nigeria left at least 35 dead in Africa’s most populous country
An attack on internally displaced people in Nigeria caused more than three dozen fatalities and countless injured, according to father Remigius Ihyula, from the Diocese of Makurdi, in a message sent to international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The attack was carried out by Fulani herdsmen, and took place on Good Friday, 7 April.
“The Fulanis came into an IDP camp to kill these innocent souls. Over 35 deaths and countless injured. The nearby IDP camps are all now in disarray”, said Fr Remigius, in his message to ACN.
“This has been a black Holy Saturday for us out here”, concluded the priest, who also sent photographs, some of which are too graphic to publish, of bodies collected in the local morgue.
Makurdi Diocese is located in Benue State, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, which has suffered greatly from the violence carried out by Fulani herdsmen against settled farmers. The conflict is complex. The animosity between nomadic herdsmen and farmers is ancient, but has been made worse in recent years by the introduction of automatic weapons that flooded the black market after the collapse of the regime in Libya. The situation has been aggravated by a religious dimension, as most Fulani are Muslim and most of the farmers in the region are Christian, and there is fear that the Fulani violence is being stoked by those who want to cleanse the area of a Christian presence.
According to a statement by the Foundation for Justice Development and Peace, also sent to ACN by Fr Remigius, the massacre occurred in the vicinity of the village of Ngban, when Fulani herders laid siege to the local primary school.
“The premise is well known and used as a haven for people from neighbouring settlements such as Udei, who from time to time come to the school to sleep/stay due to fear and insecurity in their villages. Beside the school is the house of Zaki Bernard Shawa, who also lost two children in the attack while in front of the school is the Makurdi-Lafia highway with a police checkpoint.”
According to Fr Remigius the herdsmen also destroyed property, including vehicles and agricultural products.
ACN Lent Campaign focuses on Nigeria
Attacks such as this one, which took place during Holy Week, only confirm the importance of Aid to the Church in Need’s international Lent campaign, which this year was dedicated to Nigeria. The campaign is aimed at raising awareness about the tragic situation many Christian communities in Nigeria find themselves in, as constant targets of attack and persecution in the most populous country in Africa.
The Diocese of Makurdi alone has two million internally displaced people, in seven camps. Many of them are Christian. In a message recorded for the ACN Lent campaign, Father Remigius recalls that all these people who had to leave their homes used to be self-sufficient, but now rely on handouts to survive. The camps also lack basic equipment, such as beds, with the vast majority of IDPs having to sleep on the floor.
Besides the Fulani attacks, Nigerian Christians – and the population in general – have also been suffering from other issues, such as the activity of Muslim Terrorist groups like Boko Haram and its offshoot the Islamic State – West Africa Province, and a rise in banditry, including an industry of kidnapping for ransom. Christians in some Muslim majority states in the North of the country also have to live under Sharia law and lack basic religious freedom.