NIGERIA: Bishop says attacks by Fulani militants are a forgotten tragedy

Kaduna: Destruction caused by a Fulani attack in 2017
Kaduna: Destruction caused by a Fulani attack in 2017

Violent attacks by Fulani herdsmen are a worse threat to Nigeria’s Christian community than aggression by Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram – but authorities are failing to act – according to a Christian leader.

Bishop William Amove Avenya of Gboko Diocese said: “The Fulani have claimed far more victims during 2018 than Boko Haram, but no one is doing anything about it”.

According to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index, up to 1,700 deaths have been attributed to Fulani-extremist attacks carried out between January and September 2018.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Avenya said that in his diocese, located in Nigeria’s Christian-majority Benue State, “Fulani tribesmen, armed to the teeth, are murdering pregnant women and children, and destroying our smallholdings”.

According to the bishop, since 2010 Christian villages have been targeted by militant Fulani herdsman from the Sahel region, armed with weapons including AK47 assault rifles.

Thousands of villagers have been killed and numerous communities forced to flee as a result of the attacks.

Bishop Avenya said that the Nigerian authorities are not taking the necessary steps to address the violence.

The bishop warned: “This is a time bomb that threatens to ignite the whole region”.

Bishop Avenya was also critical of EU politicians he met during his visit to Brussels for a meeting about ACN’s 2018 Religious Freedom in the World report.

He said: “[They] seemed poorly informed about the situation in our country and about the threat posed by the Fulani, who have been supplied with modern weapons of a kind not used by simple herdsmen.

“We need to ask who is behind this.”

Last month, Bishop Avenya issued an appeal to the international community, urging it “not to wait for a genocide to happen before intervening”.

This follows pleas by the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, which has called on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to provide effective guarantees for the safety of his people – or resign if he is unable to do so.

Bishop Avenya added: “Meanwhile, the Church continues to try and heal the wounds. We have not lost hope, but we do need help.”

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