Nigerian prelate warns of bias in security forces that leaves Christians highly vulnerable to attacks by Fulani herdsmen

Categories: News, The Suffering Church

A SENIOR NIGERIAN prelate has warned that bias by security forces has heightened ethnic tensions and inflamed the Fulani crisis.In a written statement sent to 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.

Archbishop Kaigama

“Generally, it is when the militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks that the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves.”

The statement followed clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsman and Jukun Kona farmers in Jalingo Local Government of Taraba State, Nigeria, violence that peaked in May and June 2019.

According to the prelate, 65 people were killed, 9,000 displaced; and 15 churches, two primary schools and a health center were 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 against Kona farmers have continued. Archbishop Kaigama wrote: “Three persons were killed the morning of my visit [to the area] on July 10.”

The crisis—in which houses were torched and gunmen mounted on motorcycles shot indiscriminately—began following an altercation between Fulani herdsmen and a Kona farmer on May 6.

The archbishop wrote: “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 wrote: “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 more obvious by the day.”

Church contacts in Kona told the archbishop that since the crisis began a week earlier (May 6), there had been no sign of any security presence. The prelate reported: “The priest in charge of Kona parish and some elders with whom I was in touch later confirmed the presence of the police.”

The archbishop wrote to ACN: “In my heart, I was struggling with the temptation to question the neutrality of the Police Commissioner and his deputy in the Fulani/Kona conflict and wondered whether ethnic/religious prejudices have not crept into official performance of duties.”

He stressed that when violence erupts, “the reaction of security agents must be prompt and devoid of what has sadly polarized Nigerians at all levels: religious and ethnic prejudices … There should be appropriate communication facilities set up at the grassroots to enable the common people to send distress calls to security agents in the face of violent attacks or conflicts.”

The archbishop concluded: “There should be a deliberate strategy by political and security authorities to protect minority groups in Nigeria.”
Since early 2016, more than 4500 people, most of them Christians, have been killed in attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. Most Fulani herdsmen are Muslim.

In 2018, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Nigerian Church with pastoral and humanitarian projects totaling $1.4M. Projects included aid for women who lost their husbands in attacks by Boko Haram.

—Grace Attu & John Pontifex

Support the Suffering Church