Muslim Fulani militants killed nine more Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt over the weekend, the latest strike in a string of lethal, religiously motivated attacks.
The governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, confirmed that the assault in the Sanga local government area had claimed at least nine lives, adding to the death toll of 120 Christians massacred in central Nigeria since February.
“The security agencies have so far recovered nine corpses, including children,” El-Rufai said. “The attackers also burnt several houses in the village. The government condemns this attack on the lives and security of citizens and appeals to our communities to resist those who do not want peace.”
A week ago, the Fulani jihadists, who have become a greater threat to Nigerian Christians than the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, raided the villages of Inkirimi, Dogonnoma, and Ungwan Gora in the Kajuru Local Government Area, destroying 143 homes, killing 52 people, and wounding dozens more.
From June 2015 to June 2018, Fulani militants “killed 8,800 Christians and other non-Muslims,” Nigeria’s Daily Post reported last year. During that same period, terrorists torched “not less than 1,000″ churches and other places of worship.
Despite the severity of these massacres, they went virtually unreported by international media.
Governor El-Rufai has vowed that the government, security agencies, and religious institutions will work towards creating “sustainable peace.”
“In this moment of grief, we must come together to defeat the machinations of those who have no notion of respect for the lives of others,” El-Rufai said.
“Violence has left an unacceptable toll of death and injury, loss of livelihoods, pain and fear. We must overcome this by respecting our common humanity, settling differences peacefully and promptly reporting threats and suspicions to the appropriate authorities. Evil will never triumph over our common humanity,” he said.
When mainstream media have reported on the slaughter of Christians in central Nigeria, they have downplayed the religious nature of the killings, preferring to attribute the violence to “ethnic tensions,” a “battle for land and resources,” or even “climate change.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who is himself of the Fulani ethnic group, has encouraged this narrative, minimizing the importance of religion in the conflict.
Two local Catholic bishops, however, along with other Christian leaders, have insisted in calling out the violence for what it is: a “clear agenda for Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt” by using armed Fulani jihadists.
One of the bishops, Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia, said last year that the ongoing attacks are not random or economically motivated, but purposefully target Christians.
“They want to strike Christians,” Bishop Audu said, “and the government does nothing to stop them, because President Buhari is also of the Fulani ethnic group.”
Other observers agree that the attacks form part of a larger plan to eliminate Christians from the area.
“The killings are becoming no longer herder and farmer clashes” but a “deliberate attempt to conquer and occupy the land of the people’s ancestral heritage,” said Dr. Soja Bewarang, while denouncing an attack on a Bible school that trained Christian missionaries in Gana-Ropp village.
Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Jos, said that the violence is part of a pattern, an emerging agenda, which represents “another Boko Haram in disguise.”
The targeted nature of the attacks in central Nigeria is indicative, Para-Mallam said, “because Plateau state is the epicenter of Christianity.”
President Buhari condemned the most recent violence and the “ethnic and religious bigotry” in a statement Saturday. He stressed, however, that all “communities involved” must find a “lasting solution.”
“[The] lack of cooperation by those involved might frustrate government’s efforts towards finding a lasting solution, especially if those efforts are politicized,” Buhari said. “If the people resist government’s efforts to hold the perpetrators and their sponsors accountable, it would be very difficult to bring the violence to a permanent end.”
In its 2018 report, the independent United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) determined that Nigeria should be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, a term for governments “that engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The USCIRF has designated Nigeria a CPC every year since 2009.
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