Catholic bishops in Nigeria have told the country's president Muhammadu Buhari his government is 'incapable or unwilling' to protect citizens from attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
They describe the Muslim pastoralists who have murdered hundreds of Christians as 'terrorists masquerading as herdsmen', according to World Watch Monitor.
The delegation of 11 bishops delivered their message on behalf the Nigerian bishops' conference. They said the attacks 'have led to a near civil war situation in many parts of the country'.
Their statement continued: 'Innocent citizens in different communities across the nation are brutally attacked and their sources of livelihood mindlessly destroyed.
'Property, worth billions of Naira, including places of worship, schools, hospitals and business enterprises, are torched and turned to ashes.
'We are still more saddened by the recent massacre of unarmed citizens by these terrorists in some communities in Benue, Adamawa, Kaduna and Taraba states, which has caused national shock, grief and outcry.'
The 'silence' of the federal government was 'to say the least, shocking' the bishops said.
The struggle in Nigeria's Middle Belt reflects ages-old tensions between pastoralists who need grazing land and water for their herds and agriculturalists who compete with them for the same resources. The fact that Fulani herdsmen are Muslim and the farmers are mainly Christian has added a religious dimension to the conflict.
The bishops urged the president to adopt grazing solutions for the herdsmen – already in force in some states – in tandem with plans to help agriculturalists.
They warned that the government's failure to adequately address issues such as poverty, joblessness, and violence had led some young people to place themselves in the hands of people-traffickers.
In recent months the Fulani militias have been armed with AK47s and other weaponry, suggesting they are receiving external funding, World Watch Monitor says.
Buhari tweeted after his meeting with the bishops: 'Today I met with the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), led by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. It was a welcome opportunity for me to explain in detail what we're doing as a Government to bring permanent resolution to herdsmen-farmers conflicts & violence across Nigeria.'