Fulani violence continues in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. Statistics are hard to ascertain because of the unreliability of government figures and inconsistent witness counts, but Open Doors has recorded at least 32 Fulani-related incidents in 2018 resulting in 350 deaths of mostly Christian villagers. Our partners visited Christians affected by attacks in Taraba State, and found them in desperate need of support.
An estimated 50 Christians died when Fulani herders attacked Christians in the northern villages of Lau and Karim, Taraba State. Pastor David Yerima, whose family home is in Lau, told our partners that he heard about the attack from a group of 26 women and children who had fled to his church in the nearby village of Zing to seek refuge. Their husbands stayed behind to defend their village of Lau. The next morning Pastor David went to Lau to investigate.
“We buried 35 people in Lau, including two pastors who were killed as they stayed back to watch over their churches. It was a mass burial because there was no time to bury everyone individually,” said Pastor David. “Although they did not burn any churches, they looted all the tithes and gathered all instruments and chairs outside and burnt them.
“All our houses were razed. To my shock my house was burnt down completely and my barn, where I stored my grains, were also burnt down. All my labour has been in vain. I don’t know where I will get food for those who are taking refuge in my church in Zing.”
‘I DON’T THINK I WILL EVER BE HAPPY AGAIN’
Comfort Obida, 36 is the wife of one of the pastors who lost his life in the attacks. “I fled with the others,” she said. “The next day I tried to reach my husband on the phone to hear how he was faring, but could not get an answer. Then I received a call from my in-laws who told me ‘Baba is gone, they have killed him’.
“What grieves my heart the most is that I had no opportunity to see his body. He was buried along with the rest of the believers who died in a mass grave. He doesn’t have a separate grave where my children and I can go and pay him our last respects. I don’t think I will ever be happy again until the day I die and meet with him again. I know for sure that he is in heaven. He died protecting the house of the Lord.”
ADULTS OFTEN GO WITHOUT FOOD
Survivors of the attack have taken refuge in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP). There are many IDP camps across Taraba State. But conditions are terrible and most families live in squalor. In the village of Lassaudi, for instance, Open Doors partners found 1,300 IDPs from eight villages living in a primary school.
“People prepared food in a single pot that would normally contain about 50 portions,” said one partner. “The women would divide the food into eight portions, one portion for each village represented. Adults often go without food so that their children can eat. Many have gone to look for work on nearby farms in the hope of gathering a little money so they can eat.”
OPEN DOORS RESPONSE
Open Doors is closely involved in many of the Christian communities affected by the Fulani attacks. In partnership with the local church we provide support and encouragement, basic services like clinics, boreholes and schools, and crisis relief, for people who had to flee their communities. We support church leaders with programmes to stop youth, impacted by Fulani attacks, from carrying out their own revenge attacks.
We also train churches in how to respond to persecution and stand strong in their own faith. This year we started a major rehabilitation programme to help Christian villages recover from years of targeted violence from both Boko Haram and Fulani herders.
However, these constant attacks are placing our operations and our teams under immense pressure. Workers have also reported very.
The story we continue to hear from survivors is that government, local officials, police and military, all those in place to protect communities, continuously do nothing.
Christians express frustration with the government for its handling of the situation, accusing them of an imbalanced response towards Christian and Muslim victims. Witnesses have also told Open Doors that security forces often withdraw prior to an attack or arrive too late to offer any protection.
As the UK government provides ongoing training for Nigerian forces, Open Doors would strongly recommend that any programmes provided by the UK should cover how to pre-empt Fulani attacks and improve logistics for rapid response so as to better protect the local communities.
Nigeria is number 14 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Hostility towards Christians, especially in the northern Sharia states, is spread by radical Islamic teaching and practice. Believers experience discrimination and exclusion, and violence from militant Islamic groups, resulting in the loss of property, land, livelihood, physical injury or death; this is spreading southwards. Corruption has enfeebled the state and made it ill-equipped to protect Christians. Rivalry between ethnic groups and raids by Fulani herdsmen compound the persecution. Converts face rejection from their Muslim families and pressure to recant.