'Heartbreaking' Nigeria violence sees hundreds of Christians killed

Days of violence between mainly Christian farmers and Muslim Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria have cost hundreds of lives and led to accusations that the government has lost control of the situation.

The deaths include 120 Christians killed after a funeral, according to a Nigerian pastor. Pam Chollom, who leads the Church of Christ in Nations Regional Church Council, told the Premium Times of Nigeria: 'The armed Fulani ambushed the sympathizers on their way back from the burial, attacked and killed 34 persons from Nekan village, 39 others from Kufang, and 47 people from Ruku village.' 

Tearfund's country representative has said the violence 'breaks our hearts'.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari – an ethnic Fulani – has said it is unjust to blame him for the killings, said by the Christian Association of Nigeria to number 218.

President Muhammadu Buhari, pictured during a meeting with officials during a visit to Plateau state, is seeking a second term in elections next February.Reuters

'It is noteworthy that many Nigerians still acknowledge that despite the security challenges, this administration has made notable successes in the security sector,' he said.

Fulani terrorism is now more dangerous than Boko Haram's.

While the violence reflects competition for resources between farmer and nomadic pastoralists and is not primarily a religious conflict, many observers say the Fulani are being infiltrated and armed by Islamist extremists.

Paul Mershak, Tearfund country representative, said: 'Tearfund condemns these horrendous acts and the huge cost to human life and widespread destruction this has caused.

'We have been working in the Middle Belt of Nigeria on peacebuilding, and this escalating cycle of attacks breaks our heart.'

He said Tearfund had been bringing adversaries together through local peace committes and had worked with young people 'sick of a lifetime of hatred and violence'. It had also helped create the government-backed Plateau State Peacebuilding Agency, the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Mershak said: 'All of these efforts and those of fellow agencies can help. But now has come the time for the government to intensify its efforts to bring lasting peace to the Middle Belt region, to commit to a high-level and properly planned peacebuilding strategy, whilst assisting victims with the recovery of their homes and lives, regardless of their background. Now has also come the time to bring all perpetrators of violence to justice, so we can look for a brighter future for Nigeria.'

The Nigeria Police Force said in an emailed statement that it was sending a special force to Plateau state to bolster security, which would include two police surveillance helicopters, five armoured personnel carriers and extra officers from other states.

Plateau state governor Simon Lalong, speaking at a press conference with Buhari on Tuesday, called the attack 'very disturbing and alarming because it has left behind a painful loss of over 200 people'.

He said the country was facing a humanitarian challenge 'confronting thousands of displaced persons, whose houses and crops have burnt and completely destroyed'.