A senior Nigerian prelate has warned that bias by security forces has heightened ethnic tensions and inflamed the Fulani crisis.
In a message sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Co-adjutor Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said: “Biased and prejudiced official security reports heighten tension when they blame the victims instead of the aggressors because of the Nigerian ‘factor’ of tribal or religious affiliation. This sadly keeps the fire of the crisis raging.
“Generally, it is when the militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks that the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves.”
His remarks followed clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsman and Jukun Kona farmers in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State, Nigeria that peaked between May and June 2019.
According to the prelate, 65 were killed, 9,000 displaced, and 15 churches, two primary schools and a health centre destroyed during Fulani attacks on 18 predominantly Christian villages.
Kona assaults on members of the Fulani ethnic group also caused damage, including the torching of two mosques. More than 23 Fulani were also killed.
Guerilla attacks agaisnt Kona farmers have continued.
Archbishop Kaigama said: “Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July.”
The crisis – in which houses were torched and gunmen mounted on motorcycles shot indiscriminately – began following an altercation between between the Fulani herdsman and a Kona farmer on 6th May.
The archbishop said: “The violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the population of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) began to swell because of the increasing attacks of the gunmen.”
Archbishop Kaigama noted that historic tensions between the Fulani and Kona in the region, dating back to the 1890s, had intensified the recent crisis.
The archbishop – himself a member of the Kona minority – described contacting senior officials to seek protection for the farming communities under attack, including the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of operations, Faleye Olaleye.
He said: “When I called the DCP and asked how the situation was, his immediate remark was, ‘Your people like fighting’.
“I asked him who my people were since we are all Nigerians? I explained to him how many people were complaining that since the start of the crisis, no security personnel was seen in Kona even when threats to invade Kona were becoming obvious by the day.”
Church contacts in Kona told the archbishop that since the crisis began a week earlier, there had been no sign of any security presence.
“The priest in charge of Kona parish and some elders with whom I was in touch later confirmed the presence of the police that night.”
On 16th June security forces arrested some Kona youths. The archbishop said: “[The youths] claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defence of their community against the marauding herdsmen.”
He added: “There should be a deliberate strategy by political and security authorities to protect minority groups in Nigeria.”