More than 70 Christians have been murdered in the past month in Plateau State, Nigeria, including one pastor. The body count has piled up after at least a half dozen attacks perpetrated by Muslim Fulani cattle herders. They frequently terrorize Christian farmers in central Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” states of Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba, Benue, and others.
Fulani herdsmen regularly raid Christian villages opening up a hail of gunfire, burning homes and churches, and shooting their victims when they run outside to escape the fires.
“The jihadists, in their quest to eliminate Christians in Plateau State and their thirst for blood, have succeeded in killing Christians and burning their houses,” said Gyang, a local man whose full name is withheld to protect his safety.
The most deadly attack occurred on May 2 when herdsmen reportedly set fire to the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) located in Foron town, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA), killing 27 Christians. The victims included Rev. Luka Gwom and a congregant named Pauline who was married just two weeks prior in the same church building.
The recent raids have all occurred in two areas of Plateau State: Barkin Ladi and Riyom LGAs. These frightening experiences have become nearly a weekly terror for Christians in the region. From April 25 to May 11, Gyang reported at least six attacks on more than eight villages, some of them targeted more than once during that time span.
“We in Riyom and Barkin Ladi LGAs have been under siege and invasion. Lives have been lost almost every day, and [there is] no serious action from any quarter by the government. But we are still faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Gyang said as he recounted an attack that killed two members of the Rim town community as they were returning from the burial of fellow Christians who were slaughtered in a Fulani raid that happened just days before.
Sadly, this recent string of assaults is nothing new for brothers and sisters in Christ in central Nigeria. In mid-March, Muslim Fulani cattle herders massacred 82 Christians in a village in Benue State, according to Nigerian news reports. However, the secular media and Nigerian authorities have been slow to acknowledge these events as Christian persecution.
“It is the longstanding issue over grazing rights and cattle rustling between Egba and Fulani people,” police spokesman Ezeala Austin said after the March attack.
Despite the historic tensions Austin cites, witnesses to the assaults often recount that the herdsmen chanted “Allahu Akhbar” during the attack, the Arabic saying, “God is Great,” which has become associated with jihadist Muslim terrorism. The herdsmen also continually and specifically target Christian villages.
One Plateau State government official vaguely referenced recent incidents of cattle rustling by predominantly-Christian tribes in Wase LGA in connection to the attacks of the past month, but reports suggest no linkage between the events. Wase LGA is located 160 miles away from Barkin Ladi and Riyom.
International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager of Africa Troy Augustine said, “The world should wake up to the forgotten persecution happening all over Nigeria’s Middle-Belt. Extremist Muslim Fulani herders are regularly and consciously attacking Christian villages and slaughtering our brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t know what else needs to be explained to acknowledge that these people are persecuted because of their faith. While the world rightly remembers and prays for Christians in northern Nigeria under threat from Boko Haram, let us not forget those who live under daily suffering at the hands of jihadists also happening in central Nigeria.”
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Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa