Over 20 Nigerian Christians have been butchered by Islamic Fulani herdsmen in the latest brutal attack to rock the embattled nation. The viscous herdsmen, who have been responsible for hundreds of attacks against the Christian population, struck March 4, 2019 in a coordinated attack on a series of villages across Benue State.
According to persecution watchdog, International Christian Concern, some 23 people were murdered in the attacks, which were perpetrated with machetes and firearms. “It was bad. They killed over 20 people,” said a member of the Gwer West legislative council following the incident. “Some were killed by gunshots and some by machete hacks!”
While twenty people were massacred in the first attack in the villages of Tse-Tema Dula, Tse-Ugor, and Tse-Jabu, another three were butchered a few days later in the town of Tse-Ikyo Mke. “Even today, they attacked. One of my members came to report that his father was killed, and another member said his son-in-law was also killed,” said local pastor, Reverend Ajoh, following the murders. All three men killed in the second attack were married with children.
Farming communities terrorized by the Fulani
Many of those living in Benue State earn a living through farming. However, these communities have been under increased attack from the nomadic and heavily-armed Fulani herdsmen in recent years. Land seizures, beatings and murders are all very common as a result of the Fulani’s anger at Benue state’s passing of legislation that restricts cattle grazing to specific ranches. The Fulani believed that this was an attack on their generational culture of open grazing, and began to attack many of the farmers they stumbled upon, many of whom were Christian.
“I have always maintained that the grazing law is not intended to chase herdsmen out of Benue but enacted to ensure that herdsmen carried out their activities without intimidation,” said Benue state governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom at the November 2017 signing in of the grazing law, as reported by Vanguard.
Nigeria remains highly ranked on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List at number 12. The list specifies the most dangerous nations on earth in which to live as a Christian. “Nigeria’s score for violence has stayed as high as possible, primarily due to the increased attacks on Christian communities by Hausa-Fulani Islamic militant herdsmen,” detailed Open Doors in it’s most recent report on the country.
“Such violence often results in the loss of life and physical injury, as well as loss of property. As a result of the violence, Christians are also dispossessed of their land and means of livelihood.”
A relative peace
Over the past year, there has been notably fewer attack on the Christian farming community, though many believe that this was a strategic decision made by the Fulani to ensure a peaceful re-election of President Buhari, whom the group passionately support.
“Before the presidential election, they moved away, but they are now returning in their hundreds,” said a local source. “They don’t like the current governor, and don’t want him to return, so they would want to disrupt the state elections. Buhari has not been happy with him because he refused to cede land for ‘cattle colonies.’”
Meeting with the Muslim President in May of 2018, President Trump urged him to do more to guarantee protections for people of faith. “We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who are murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump said as he sat with Buhari in the Oval Office, before adding that “we can’t allow that to happen.”
The president emphasized the same point at a joint press conference held in the Rose Garden later in the day:
“We are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria including the burning of churches and the killing and persecution of Christians. It’s a horrible story. We encourage Nigeria to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths.” he explained.
He then issued a word directly to the Nigerian leader: “We encourage Nigeria and the federal state and local leaders to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths including Muslims and including Christians.”
Prayers for change
The heavily persecuted Christian farming population continues to live in abject fear of the next attack. However, despite the near-constant threat to their lives, this faith-filled community remains hopeful that God will bring peace. “The Church in Benue is praying,” said Pastor Ajoh, “and we know that our God will never disappoint us!”
In its report, Open Doors USA urged prayer for the troubled nation. “Pray for Christians in the middle of Nigeria, who are facing increased hostility and attacks from Fulani militants,” the organization implored. “Sharia law has been implemented in 12 northern states and Christians there face marginalization and discrimination. Pray that these Christians would not be discouraged. Pray they will not be tempted to give up the faith in pursuit of an easier life.”
“Pray for Fulani militants, the members of Boko Haram and other extremist groups. Pray that God will touch their hearts with His truth.”