A fresh report from Nigeria has revealed hundreds were killed in 119 militant attacks targeting predominantly Christian communities in one state alone in 2023.
Extremists murdered 414 people and injured, raped or kidnapped almost 100 more in Benue State last year, according to a report sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by Makurdi Diocese’s Foundation for Justice, Development and Peace.
The report follows the news of 300 deaths during targeted attacks on Christian villages in neighbouring Plateau State on Christmas Eve 2023.
Father Remigius Ihyula, head of the Foundation for Justice, Development and Peace, told ACN: “Nigeria’s Middle Belt, which includes Benue State, where the Diocese of Makurdi is located, is known for its very fertile lands, and has become a battleground in these conflicts.
“The Fulani come from places as far as the Republic of Niger or the northern states of Sokoto or Katsina.”
He said that the Fulani militants are “armed with heavy weapons” and disguise themselves as “nomads in search of foliage for their flock, but acting like jihadists, to propagate Islam as an ideology”.
He added that the attackers often displace “entire villages in surprise attacks, killing and disrupting economic and social activities with the no clear reaction from the Nigerian Government”.
The report states that the numbers cited only include victims who have been identified, so the death toll could be much higher.
The first quarter of 2023 was the most violent, with 18 attacks in January, 15 in February and 18 in March, leading to the deaths of at least 163.
April was the deadliest month, with 63 murdered in nine attacks.
The motives behind the attacks include religious and tribal differences, as well as disputes over land between mostly Christian farmers and Muslim-majority nomadic herdsmen.
Father Ihyula said that “in the past, the conflict over grazing lands never came with the killings and destruction witnessed today” because there were “mechanisms for peaceful resolutions and amicable settlements, none of which are present today”.
ACN has supported Makurdi Diocese with aid for displaced people, pastoral care, trauma counselling, scholarships, food and other forms of humanitarian help.
With thanks to Filipe d’Avillez