Christians in Nigeria’s Plateau State at risk of being wiped out by Fulani attacks

3 July 2018

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During a recent House of Lords debate, Baroness Berridge highlighted the genocidal level of killings taking place in Nigeria and West Africa, quoting from the 2017 Global Terrorism Index, which estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed across West Africa in clashes between ethnic Fulani herdsmen and settled farming communities since 2001. The Fulani attackers are mainly Muslims and the settled farmers are mainly Christians.

In Plateau State, a 31,000 square km region in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, some 2,000 Christians have been killed in the last two years. Hundreds of the villages of this mainly Christian farming community have also been razed to the ground by Fulani herdsmen, who drive out survivors of their attacks and take over their land. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) claim as many as 6,000 Christian lives have been lost in a relentless programme of Muslim Fulani attacks during 2018, and CAN leaders have appealed to the “international community” to intervene. Many Christian farmers have moved from isolated villages to areas closer to the city of Jos in an effort to escape the violence.

Open countryside near Agape ministry, Ganaropp-north Plateau State, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. A Christian resident of a recently attacked village criticised biased reporting of the conflict saying, “It is annoying when politicians say this is a clash between herdsmen and farmers. I ask, how does a woman farming in her own farm clash with Fulanis carrying AK 47s?”

Christian survivors of murderous attacks by Muslim Fulani cattle-herders say their farming communities are now in danger of being completely wiped out.

Increase in hostilities and military style Fulani attacks

In one weekend alone, Fulani herdsmen rampaged through ten Christian villages in Plateau State, killing around 200 people , including 70 in Nghar village and 34 in Ganaropp. Villagers said hundreds of gunmen dressed in black raided their communities during 23 and 24 June, shooting people dead, looting houses and setting them on fire. Mourners returning from the funeral of a pastor in Gidin Akwati were among those killed.

Caring for displaced children

In Ganaropp-north, not far from the scenes of last week’s bloodshed, Pastor Bayo Famonure runs the Agape ministry, supported by Barnabas Fund, which includes two schools and residential care for over 100 of the many displaced children from the region. A 7 p.m. curfew is in operation in the area because of the attacks.

Pastor Bayo believes the Fulani moved into the region with the intention of “conquering and colonising” Plateau State. Their primary purpose is not to convert Christians to Islam but to subjugate or kill them and take their land, he says.

He and his wife Naomi, both in their late sixties, are looking after a two-year-old boy found on the top of his parents’ dead bodies. He was 15 months old when he was rescued and the couple have named him Miracle. Among the other children in their care is Cyrus, a ten-year-old boy whose father, brother, and other relatives were shot by Fulanis and their home burnt down. His mother survived but now struggles on her own to live by subsistence farming after being driven from her land.

Pastor Bayo’s wife Naomi with Miracle, a little boy in their care rescued from laying on top of his dead parents. Both parents were killed in a Fulani attack when he was just 15 months old

According to Pastor Bayo, the army often fails to search villages or pursue the Fulani gunmen after an attack. He also raised his concerns that that the Church is in danger of disappearing from the region in future, or being forced underground.

Frustration at biased reporting of armed Fulani attacks on unarmed Christian farmers

A resident of Hukke village, which was targeted in a previous three-day killing spree from 17–20 June, criticised the typical news narrative that claims the attacks are a clash over land use between herdsmen and settled farming communities: “It is annoying when politicians say this is a clash between herdsmen and farmers. I ask, how does a woman farming in her own farm clash with Fulanis carrying AK 47s?”

Calling for government action and international intervention

CAN has been co-ordinating protests across the region, calling for the government to act to end the violence. Dr Soja Bewarang, Plateau State’s CAN chairman, said churches had lost many pastors and key leaders in the crisis. He is concerned about the future of Christianity in the State.

Ten-year-old Cyrus is being cared for and schooled at the Barnabas Fund supported Agape ministry after his father, and other relatives, were shot by Fulanis. His home was burnt down and his mother now struggles to make a meagre living by subsistence farming after losing most of the family’s land

“In the past people lived in peace and Fulani and Christians would attend the same schools and live in the same places,” Dr Bewarang said. “But things began to change in Plateau State.” In a statement released on behalf of the CAN, he went on to describe the campaign of violence in the state as an “unholy act of systematic genocide … [and] a deliberate attempt to destroy the cultural heritage of​ Plateau people.”

From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources

Global Christian News

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