“THERE IS A CLEAR agenda: a plan to Islamicize all the areas that are currently predominantly Christian in the so-called Middle Belt of Nigeria.”
Those are the words of Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of the Diocese of Makurdi in Nigeria. His diocese is home to the parish of Saint Ignatius in Ukpor-Mbalom, Benue State—the scene of the most recent attack by Fulani herdsmen, which took place on April 24, 2018.
The bishop reports: “Two of my priests were murdered, Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha, together with at least 17 of the faithful. They were celebrating Holy Mass at 6 in the morning.” Among the victims were a lay catechist and the president of the parish council, “both of them mothers of families,” in addition to the head teacher of the only secondary school in the town.
Bishop Anagbe explains that the total number of victims has still not been definitively determined, since some family members of the Catholic faithful have gone missing.
This was no isolated incident. Since the beginning of this year, more than 100 people have been killed in similar attacks. The bishop says that “11 parishes in the diocese have been attacked and there have been numerous other attacks throughout Benue State, where 99 percent of the population is Christian.
The attacks were carried out by nomadic cattle herders of the Fulani tribe which tends to be Muslim. “We are not speaking of Boko Haram this time, although some of the cattle herders have had relations with that terrorist group in the past and both groups are united in the same intention to Islamicize the entire region,” the bishop charges.
In the face of so much violence one of the most worrying aspects for the bishop is the complete lack of action on the part of the government, especially the federal government. He insists: “When the attacks take place, there are never any police or soldiers present. Quite apart from the fact that the Fulani tribesman for the most part live in rough terrain and cannot afford the luxury of such sophisticated weapons. So who is funding them?”
The violence has resulted in more than 100,000 Internally Displaced People, who are living in four separate refugee camps in the Diocese of Makurdi. “The Church is helping the people, whereas the government is not helping us at all in this case,” the bishop explains.
The area where the most recent attack took place is now completely abandoned. The parish of Mbalom was established only in 2015. “There was nothing at the time, no schools and no hospitals. We built these, above all thanks to the dedication of Father Joseph and Father Felix. They were priests who were truly active and devoted to their community,” the bishop says.
In the face of so much pain and suffering, the Nigerian Christians are not losing hope – but they do need the support of the international community. The Catholic Church in Nigeria organized a May 22, 2018 march to protest the ongoing attacks on Christians by the Fulani cattle herders. Bishop Anagbe concludes: “Please pray for us and make yourself spokesmen for the suffering our community is going through. We need people to raise their voices in our defense. Nigeria is part of the United Nations, and we cannot simply be abandoned and forgotten by the world.”
—Marta Petrosillo & Maria Lozano