Brutal killing of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt continue

Local community leaders say that the attacks follow the tactics employed by armed bandits who carried out the Christmas massacres in Nigeria. Religion is a factor in a conflict that also has ethnic and economic roots.

Dozens of Christians have been killed in towns and villages across Nigeria’s Middle Belt over the past few weeks, namely around Easter, according to information provided to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by local Catholic leaders.

Displaced after the Christmas 2023 attacks in Bokkos, Plateau State
Displaced after the Christmas 2023 attacks in Bokkos, Plateau State

At least 39 people were killed in a spate of attacks on villages in Plateau State, which began on Easter Monday, 1 April, and continued over the next fortnight.

According to Father Andrew Dewan, director of communications in Pankshin Diocese, “there were violent attacks on Easter Monday. Ten people were killed and a pregnant woman had her stomach slit open. The baby was not spared.”

The attackers, ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who mostly follow Islam, returned several days later, initiating another series of raids on Friday, 12 April, which resulted in 29 more deaths. “The attacks continued through to Sunday, 14 April. In total, five villages and districts were attacked, 29 people were killed, including a protestant minister, and two were injured. A church in Kopnanle was burned down.”

This is the same region in which over 300 Christians were massacred around Christmas, and Fr Andrew believes that “there is a pattern to these attacks, and they’re an ongoing feature of living in the region. They might be linked to the attacks over Christmas.” Another factor could be revenge, says Fr Andrew, citing the killing of two Fulani youths by unknown criminals. “It’s a cycle of violence. Locals are looking for ways to defend themselves against the barrage of violence”, the priest told ACN.

After the Christmas massacres, the Government promised to step up security, to protect settled farmers in the Middle Belt, who are mostly Christians, but it has not followed through, complains Fr Andrew. “The security response of the Government is inadequate. In times of crisis, communities don’t have confidence in governments to protect them. They take shelter in churches, which aren’t used to dealing with such a deluge of IDPs. Imagine cooking for thousands of people per month; we haven’t planned or stocked up for these emergencies, so we’re often caught unprepared.”

Clergy looking after people in IDP camps in Pankshin Diocese after the Christmas 2023 massacre in Bokkos, Plateau State, Nigeria
Clergy looking after people in IDP camps in Pankshin Diocese after the Christmas 2023 massacre in Bokkos, Plateau State, Nigeria

Following the Christmas massacre, 16 camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were set up in Bokkos, mostly by the Church, to provide shelter for those affected by the attacks. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates there to be 3.1 million IDPs across Nigeria, fueled by insurgency in the North-East and extremist Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt.

Hundreds dead in Benue State in 2024

Another state that has been badly hit by the violence is Benue, also located in the Middle Belt. Detailed figures sent to ACN by Father Remigius Ihyula, a local project partner, show that around the same period of Easter dozens of Christians were murdered in Fulani raids on their towns and villages. Attacks between 28 March and 2 April left at least 38 dead, possibly many more, with several people injured and raped.

According to his information, 67 attacks occurred since the beginning of 2024, resulting in 239 confirmed dead, 60 injured and 65 kidnapped throughout Benue. In 2023, over 500 people were killed throughout the whole year.

Injured after the attacks. Clergy looking after people in IDP camps in Pankshin Diocese after the Christmas 2023 massacre in Bokkos, Plateau State, Nigeria.
Injured after the attacks. Clergy looking after people in IDP camps in Pankshin Diocese after the Christmas 2023 massacre in Bokkos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

Furthermore, Father Remigius highlights the suffering of the female victims: “We’ve heard about women and young girls being raped by terrorists, but we can’t share their names for privacy reasons. We’ve connected them with support for trauma, but we’re figuring out how to report these incidents without putting them at risk of pressure or discrimination.”

Tension between settled farmers and nomadic herders is an age-old problem in this part of Nigeria, which is well known for its fertile lands. Climate change has driven the Fulanis from their traditional grazing grounds, further north, leading to clashes over access to land. The ethnic and religious differences aggravate the situation, and there is evidence of Fulanis being radicalised and used to expel Christians from the area. The problem was made considerably worse by easy access to automatic weapons by the herders.

Aid to the Church in Need has supported the work of the Diocese of Makurdi in Nigeria, providing aid to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Guma and Daudu Camp, two of 14 camps and 13 hosting communities in Benue State. Besides pastoral care, the local Church provides trauma counselling, scholarships, food and other forms of humanitarian aid.

 

By Filipe d’Avillez.

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