CHURCH leaders in Nigeria have called for the government to protect Christians from “ethno-religious cleansing” being carried out by herdsmen, who, they allege, are burning villages and churches, and abducting girls.
The Christian Association of Nigeria said that 50,000 homes in Kaduna State, in central Nigeria, had been burnt down, and more than 10,000 people displaced, and thousands of acres of farmland destroyed.
The Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), at a press conference in Kaduna, said that the forced displacement was being carried out in plain sight of the government, and could “only be described as ethno-religious cleansing by Fulani herdsmen militia”.
Fulani herdsmen are semi-nomadic, and have clashed with farming communities for decades, usually over access to water and crops. Climate change has forced them to expand their grazing area, in search of grass and water. This has led to more conflict and increased violence.
In the latest attack on five communities, 35 people were killed, including children, and about 120 homes and six churches were destroyed, the ECWA said.
The ECWA is the biggest Christian Church in the state, with more than two million worshippers. Dozens of its churches have been destroyed in attacks by Fulani militia, it says.
It criticised the state government’s policy of reinstating cattle-grazing reserves. The policy, it said, “serves as a major motivation for the renewed ethno-religious violence and cleansing currently being visited on southern Kaduna communities”.
The office of the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, issued a statement this week that said he had "repeatedly encouraged believers not to be intimidated or be fearful. The Church will not be intimidated by such cruel acts knowing that the God of justice will fight for His Church. Many lives have been lost and properties destroyed, but the church will not lose hope but focus on Christ. "
The Nigerian Senate has called for a declaration of “security emergency” in southern Kaduna, after repeated attacks.
Senator Danjuma La’ah said that since 2011 many communities in his district had been consistently attacked by herdsmen. “Subsequent to the attacks, these herdsmen have virtually occupied the displaced communities, and are grazing their cattle freely,” he said.
In the House of Lords this week, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, raised the plight of displaced people in Kaduna. He asked the Government to put pressure on the Nigerian government to return land to communities rather than militia.
The Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay said: “With regard to the conflict over land because of desertification, and the issue of the Fulani and the farmers, there is a government Bill currently before the Nigerian parliamentary system to establish grazing reserves, routes, and cattle ranches. It is important that that Bill takes into account fully all the sensitivities of both farmers and herdsmen.”
The conflict with Fulani herdsmen has been overshadowed in recent years by the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of Nigeria. Up to two million people have been displaced because of that conflict, and the UN says that five million people are now on the brink of starvation.