At least 68 Christians have been killed, and many more abducted or displaced, over the past two months in only one state in the central region of Nigeria.
In a report sent to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, the Bishop of Makurdi, one of the dioceses in Benue State, complains of inaction by the Federal government and lists the dire needs of thousands of the 1.5 million people who have been forced from their homes.
“Naturally, having to live with such a situation has been very terrible for me and my people, to say the least”, says Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe.
At the heart of the problem are persistent attacks by terrorists from the Fulani tribe, who are mostly Muslim, against predominantly Christian farming communities in the central region of Nigeria. The reasons for the attacks are complex. Conflicts between nomadic herders and settled farmers date back centuries, but the influx of high-grade firearms over the past several years has made the attacks much more deadly and destructive.
The religious dimension aggravates the situation in a country evenly divided between a majority Christian south and a mostly Muslim north, with most of the clashes taking place in the central region, which also possesses the most fertile land. According to the bishop, the terrorists disguise themselves as nomadic herdsmen to cover the true intent of their attacks, which is to drive Christians from their lands.
The situation has caused “unbearable severe food shortages”, says the bishop, explaining that “Benue State is known to be the food basket of the nation but the terrorism has affected the food supply situation”. As a result, farmers who could usually support themselves and their families are now having to survive on charity.
“The situation of want has reduced many to a condition unworthy of human dignity, often relying on food rations contributed by others whose economic condition is not better off in any way.”
Makurdi currently houses 80% of the displaced in Benue State, and despite financial difficulties, the local Church has done its best to relieve suffering and need, providing food assistance and essential goods. Recently, the Justice, Development, and Peace Commission distributed food and clothing to over 1,800 people in one camp alone. The diocese also provides scholarships to dozens of displaced children, so that they do not miss out on the opportunity for an education.
However, the instability of the region makes it difficult at times, and the bishop himself says that “for some years now I have not been able to carry out pastoral activities in parts of my diocese”.
“Alongside all of the above initiatives, we have not forgotten the pastoral care that these persons deserve. There is a parish in some of the settlement areas that caters to the spiritual needs of the IDPs”, the bishop concludes, adding that he is still hoping to purchase a mobile clinic to help address the health and psycho-social needs of the displaced.
The problems with Fulani herdsmen, armed groups, and Islamic extremists in Nigeria have been going on for several years, but the Church has complained that Government inaction has made the situation worse.
According to the bishop, “the scale of killings, displacement and wanton destruction of property by these Fulani jihadist militia only buttresses the now revealed agenda to depopulate Christian communities in Nigeria and take over lands. Tellingly, the government in power in Nigeria at the moment continues to do nothing about these persistent attacks, save to give laughable reasons like ‘climate change’ or that some Muslims too are sometimes killed in attacks by so-called bandits.”
Abandoned by local authorities, the Church is grateful for the support it has received from ACN, which Bishop Anagbe describes as “a source of light in a valley of darkness”.
ACN continues to support the local Church, which suffers from poverty and from persecution in many parts of the country. In 2021 the International Charity financed 105 projects in Nigeria, in different fields. ACN also provides a platform of information about the suffering of Christians and helps local Church authorities to speak out at international events on issues such as religious freedom and Christian persecution.
- By Filipe d’Avillez