There are warnings that religious violence in Nigeria is spiralling out of control. The United Nations describes a ‘pressure cooker of injustice’. And a leading US human rights campaigner fears Nigeria could be set to implode, destabilising surrounding countries.
UK-based Release International supports Christian victims of violence around the world. Its partners in Nigeria warn of an agenda of Islamisation.
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi says Fulani militia are being used to drive Christians out of the North.
In his new book, Neither Bomb Nor Bullet, (Lion Hudson) he writes: ‘Nigeria is being described as the largest killing ground for Christians in the world today. First Boko Haram and now Fulani militants. The plan we see being executed is to wipe Christianity from the face of northern Nigeria.’
As lawlessness spreads, growing numbers of church members and pastors are being killed and kidnapped. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) says that in Kaduna state alone, more than 500 Christians have been abducted in the past four years.
‘Pastors and church members are being kidnapped, huge sums of money are being demanded, and nothing has been done by the Nigerian government to halt the situation,’ Kaduna state CAN Chairman Joseph Hayap told the Christian Post.
In late August, Fulani herdsmen killed a Pentecostal pastor and abducted a Baptist pastor in Kaduna. Emmanuel Noma’s 60-year-old father, Pastor Elisha, was kidnapped. He told Morning Star News: ‘They forced us out of the house at gunpoint. After two hours they released me, with the demand that I should go and raise 20 million naira or my father would be killed.’
On August 29, Fulani herdsmen killed five Christians and destroyed homes in the district of Kiri. Two years ago, armed herdsmen attacked the same Christian district and set fire to churches.
Since 2011, an estimated 11,000 people have been killed in conflict featuring Fulani militia. The death toll is said to be six times higher than that caused by Boko Haram terrorists.
This growing conflict is often characterised in the West as between Fulani herdsmen, seeking fresh grazing land because of climate change, and predominantly Christian farmers.
This simplistic picture of farmer/herder conflict has emerged due to long-standing rivalry between settlers and herdsmen. But alongside this there is growing evidence of a heavily-armed Fulani militia, sometimes in army uniforms, attacking Christian villages, slaughtering the inhabitants, driving them out and taking over their lands.
Bitrus Pogu, the national chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, believes the attacks can no longer be characterised simply as farmer/herder clashes.
Speaking on ChannelsTV he said: ‘These people come as armed men – Fulani armed militia – and attack farmers. [They] don’t come with cows. They are just terrorists.’
In 2018, the Christian Association of Nigeria said, ‘The impression has now been firmly established that the Islamists of northern Nigerian have “legalized jihad” in Nigeria.’
And in debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Cox observed: ‘There has been a very disturbing change in the behaviour of the Fulani herdsmen… In the last two to three years they have adopted a new policy: attacking Christian villages, killing local people, destroying homes, driving villagers off their lands and settling in their place.
‘There are concerns that the Fulani militants are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of driving Christians out of their homelands in northern and central-belt Nigeria.’
The ten-year insurgency by Boko Haram has killed some 27,000 people and driven 1.7 million from their homes, according to the United Nations. Some now see the Fulani militia as a greater menace.
A recent report by UN Special Envoy Agnes Callumard said the conflict involving Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt ‘must be prioritised as fast as possible, because it is spreading fast.’
She described ‘rampant violence, corruption and poverty’ as ‘chipping away at the rule of law.’ The UN Envoy said Nigeria had become a ‘pressure cooker’ of injustice.
Agnes Callumard added: ‘The warning signs are flashing bright red [due to] increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years… [There has been] widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killing; countrywide patterns of violence [are] seemingly spinning out of control.’
A veteran human rights campaigner has warned of a ‘gathering storm in Nigeria’. Former congressman, Frank Wolf, writing on US website, The Hill, says: ‘Many believe Nigeria is about to implode, which would destabilise the surrounding countries and send millions of refugees north into Europe and beyond.’
Release International CEO Paul Robinson says:
‘We ignore the Islamist agenda in Nigeria at our peril. Boko Haram’s stated aim is to take over the country for Islam. Fulani militants are playing into that same agenda. Meanwhile, Christians in the north are being killed and driven out in their thousands.
‘It would be a grave mistake to simplistically describe this onslaught as merely farmer/herder clashes. The violence is serving an Islamist agenda. We must wake up to the assault on Christians in Nigeria.’