Muslim ethnic Fulani herdsmen have stepped up attacks in Nigeria’s Benue State, in the middle belt of the oil-rich African nation. From May through November, some 10,000 people were displaced, local Christian leaders said. As has been the case in Plateau State, some of the terrorists appear to be mercenaries who come from other areas of the country or from outside. Local people have questioned how the Fulani herdsmen have acquired heavy weaponry. Christian leaders estimate that at least 205 Christians have been killed in Islamist attacks during the last six months of 2014.
While the Nigerian press has reported that the reasons for the attacks are unknown, spokesmen for the Fulani claim that they are retribution for cattle rustling. Christian leaders, however, believe that the attacks are meant to demoralize and destroy Christian communities. Anglican Bishop David Bello of Otukpo told Morning Star News, "These attacks on Christian members of our churches have disrupted church activities, as Christians can no longer worship together in their congregations."
Christians believe that Islamist terror groups have encouraged attacks by Fulani Muslims on Christian communities in Plateau, Kaduna, Bauchi, Nasarawa and Benue states. They suspect that Fulani herdsmen and the Islamists seek to permanently occupy predominantly Christian areas for grazing land, and to stockpile arms and expand Islamic territory. Christians currently comprise 51.3 percent of Nigeria's 158.2 million people. Muslims account for 45 percent. Nigerians practicing traditional African religions may be as high as 10 percent.
Nigerian Christian activist and international lawyer Emanuel Ogebe, who visited Nigeria this month, reacted to the reports. In an email response to Spero News, Ogebe wrote, “These attacks are insidious and although ongoing for over a year, they did not quite get on the radar of the religious persecution threat matrix. This is largely due to insistence by Nigerian authorities that this is the result of ‘cattle rustling’ even without investigating. But as I said to a UN official this week, even if this were true, which it is not, when does a human life equate to that of cattle? At over 200 Christian lives for alleged 500 cattle, the exchange rate is 1 human life to 2.5 cows! ”
Ogebe said that he and fellow human rights advocates will be taking a closer look at Benue State in 2014.
Catholic Bishop Michael Apochi of the Otukpo Diocese denounced attacks by Fulani Muslim gunmen on Christian communities. "Life has become unbearable for our church members who have survived these attacks, and they are making worship services impossible." Both Bishop Apochi and Bishop Bello have demanded action by the Nigerian government.
Christians in the area are fearful following numerous attacks. During the early morning hours of November 9, for instance, Muslim Fulani gunmen killed 25 Christians in seven villages. On the previous day, the Christian communities of Ikpele and Okpopolo were attacked by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen who left three persons dead. As a result, approximately 6,000 Christians have taken refuge elsewhere. The attacked villages were Ello, Okpagabi, Ogwule-Ankpa, Ogbangede, Ekwo, Enogaje and Okpanchenyi, according to local reports.
Ogebe said that Benue is “the most Christian state in northern Nigeria with less than 1% Muslim population. It is therefore historically not subject to persecution.” He expressed fear that the current Muslim onslaught may be an effort to expunge Christians entirely from the area. “Invading Muslim Fulani herdsmen may be part of the classical jihad that now employs guerrilla tactics against defenseless civilian Christian majorities. If the there is indeed some alliance between genocidal terrorist group Boko Haram and the nomadic mass-murdering Fulani, then what we have on our hands is an armored division working in tandem with a cavalry.”
As to the reaction of Nigeria’s national security apparatus, Ogebe wrote, “ It appears someone has declared full multi-flank war on all Christians in northern Nigeria and they just didn't get a memo.”
He added, “Whether or not Boko Haram (ed. note: Nigerian Islamists linked to the Al-Qaeda network) and the Fulani marauders are in cahoots as they claimed last year, the fact is that they share the same medieval mindset. Boko Haram inflicts 1st century savagery with 21st century weaponry. The only difference is the Fulani kill women and children especially where Boko Haram does this tangentially. Also the Fulanis do not have a robust media strategy or demands. “
Partial summary of Muslim attacks on Christians in Nigeria
Nov. 9: Muslim Fulani gunmen killed 25 Christians in seven villages in the Agatu region.
Nov. 8: Christian communities of Ikpele and Okpopolo were attacked by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
Oct. 12: Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 30 Christians in Oguchi-Ankpa, Many were killed in their sleep by Muslim Fulani herdsmen who broke into their homes. Homes, churches and other property were destroyed.
Oct. 4: Muslim Fulani gunmen attacked Ejima, killing three Christians. In the days prior to the attack, Christian religious leaders had called for a month of fasting and prayer in the face of unceasing attacks.
Sept. 29: Muslim gunmen killed 13 Christians in the Agatu area during worship services.
July 1: Muslim Fulani gunmen killed 40 Christians in Okpanchenyi village.
June 8: Muslim Fulani gunmen attacked a farm at Ichama Christian community of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue state. In that case, one Christian was murdered. Others were wounded and treated at St. Mary's Catholic Hospital in Okpoga. The Fulani also stole 40 head of cattle from the community. Many Christians, mostly children and women, have been forced out of their villages after their homes were destroyed.
June 2 and 3: 45 Christians were killed by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area.
May 12: Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed approximately 45 persons of the Okpanchenyi and Ekwo Christian communities in Agatu. Local Christian leaders said that the herdsmen invaded during the night and killed 38 persons. The remainder was killed during the early hours of the next day. Local media reported that some of the marauders wore Fulani traditional clothing, but may have been mercenaries from another region of Nigeria. Armed with automatic weapons, the terrorists invaded several communities, including an attack on a funeral. They killed Christians, burning churches and homes. Approximately 700 Muslim raiders participated. Thousands of people are now displaced. While attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamist groups have reaped hundreds of deaths throughout Nigeria, it was only within the last three months that the Obama administration declared it a terrorist organization.