Nigeria: Hundreds killed and churches burned in latest Fulani massacre

A previous Fulani massacre of Christians in Nigeria

At least 500 people are reported to have been murdered in new attacks by Fulani herders in more than 10 villages in northern Nigeria.

The villages in Agatu LGA remain under siege by the Muslim herders, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The latest attacks came soon after security forces in Benue State drove them out of another five communities they had occupied.

Chief Elias Ekoyi Obekpa, local paramount ruler of the Idoma tribe in Benue State, disclosed the latest attacks.

Senator David Mark, who represents the area and who visited Agatu last month, said at least 500 people died during the attacks. He added: "All the primary and post-primary schools, health centres, worship centres as well as the police station in the area have been burnt down."

Angele Dikongue-Atangana, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also visited the area.

She said that in 20 years of working in humanitarian relief, she had "never seen such a level of destruction".

She called for national and international attention to the attacks, and said the villagers would need external help to rebuild their communities.

Attacks by herdsmen are also occurring in areas of Benue State populated by the Tiv tribe.

According to Minority Report, on 6 April, eight people were killed and one went missing after suspected herdsmen attacked the Mbaa ayo, Mbanyagbegher, Mbakwaken and Mbakyar Wards.

The assailants are reported to have used a mobile phone belonging to an All Progressives Congress youth leader who was abducted from his home in Tarka and found dead on on 4 April.

Herder attacks are also continuing in the south. On 2 April, Father Aniako Celestine from St Joseph's Catholic Church Ukana in Enugu State was kidnapped by suspected Fulani herders while travelling to his home in Ezeagu. The kidnappers used the priest's mobile phone to demand a £35,500 ransom for his release.

Last month, herders destroyed farmland and livestock in Ungwuneshi in Awgu, Enugu State in an altercation prompted by the abduction of two local women. 

Supporters of a bill currently before the Nigerian National Assembly, that would establish grazing reserves and stock routes across the country, claim it would bring an end to violence involving Fulani herders. However, opponents of the bill say it would entail uprooting communities from their ancestral lands and warn that creating stock routes linking grazing reserves throughout the country with no additional provision for security would increase lawlessness.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: "It is deeply worrying to hear that communities in Agatu are still under siege weeks after security forces were sent there. The geographical range and scale of violence involving Fulani herders, and the proliferation of small arms, indicate that it has mutated far beyond inter-communal competition for resources into a significant threat to national security.

"Addressing this violence must become a priority, with attacks being met by an effective defence of besieged communities, as well as of herders who are legitimate victims of cattle rustling. Murder, rape, and destruction of personal and federal property are criminal acts; consequently, perpetrators ought to be apprehended, disarmed and prosecuted in order to combat lawlessness and impunity.

"In addition, given the significant sensitivities generated throughout the country, it is vital that the potentially explosive issue of grazing reserves is handled with extreme caution and objectivity."