50,000 flee Nigerian state amidst escalating violence

Women pray for peace at the St Patrick Catholic Church in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sunday 2 August 2009(AP)

An estimated 50,000 people have been forced to flee growing conflict in Benue state, Nigeria, as increasing violence threatens their livelihood.

A long running land dispute between local farmers and the Fulani community – nomadic cattle herders – has recently resulted in a fresh outbreak of violence, and has fractured the north central state even further.

With no official camps set up for refugees of the conflict, those who have been forced to flee are reportedly taking refuge in any available buildings, including schools left empty by the recent teacher strike.

Christian Aid partners on the ground in Nigeria – including the Jireh Doo Foundation (JDF) and the Anglican Diocesan Development Services (ADDS) Makurdi – are therefore working to provide vital aid and humanitarian assistance for those seeking shelter.

The distribution of food, water sanitation devices, mosquito nets, cooking utensils and hygiene equipment has begun, while psychological counselling and health education is also being offered to those affected by the crisis, amidst fears that diseases will spread quickly.

JDF and ADDS Makurdi are now urging President Goodluck Jonathan's government to respond immediately, before the situation worsens further.

"Farming is the primary occupation in Benue state and the main source of income for most households," explains country manager for Christian Aid Nigeria Charles Usie.

"As well as people losing their lives, violent attacks during this conflict have destroyed farmlands leaving people homeless and jobless.

"This is another example of the growing insecurity in the country but we must put pressure on the authorities - they cannot ignore the crisis in Benue."

Northern Nigeria is rife with tension as Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is continuing its bid for power.

The militant group – whose name translates as 'Western education is forbidden' – is responsible for thousands of deaths since its uprising in 2009, including over 2,000 this year alone. Members have declared intent to cleanse the country of Christians, eradicate Nigerian democracy and replace it with an Islamic state guided by Sharia law.