JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Reports of Christians attacked in central and northern Nigeria draw more attention, but in more southerly Benue state Islamic extremists killed at least 205 Christians in the last six months alone, sources said.
In the southeastern part of Nigeria’s middle belt, Benue state’s Agatu Local Government Area saw deadly attacks on Christian farmers by Muslim, ethnic Fulani herdsmen from May through November that displaced an estimated 10,000 people, Christian leaders said.
As in attacks in Plateau state, several of the assailants appeared to be mercenaries from outside the area rather than herdsmen, and locals questioned how the Fulani became so heavily armed. In some of the attacks a herdsmen spokesman alleged stolen cattle as the reason for the bloodshed, but frequently the Nigerian press asserted that motives for the attacks were unknown.
Christian leaders, however, said they had no doubt the Muslim assailants aimed to demoralize and destroy Christians.
“These attacks on Christian members of our churches have disrupted church activities, as Christians can no longer worship together in their congregations,” the Rev. David Bello, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Otukpo, told Morning Star News.
The Rev. Michael Apochi, Roman Catholic bishop of Otukpo Diocese, added that attacks by Muslim Fulani gunmen have devastated Christian communities.
“Life has become unbearable for our church members who have survived these attacks, and they are making worship services impossible,” Apochi told Morning Star News by phone.
The two Christian leaders called on the Nigerian government to urgently take measures to curb unprovoked attacks on Christians in rural areas of the state.
In the early hours of Nov. 9, Muslim Fulani gunmen killed 25 Christians in seven villages, said area Christian leader Sule Audu.
“Seven Christian communities were completely ravaged by the rampaging Muslim Fulani gunmen,” Audu said. “The previous Thursday, Nov. 8, two Christian communities of Ikpele and Okpopolo were attacked by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen in a raid that resulted in the killing of three persons, injuring many others, and the displacement of about 6,000 Christians.”
The attacked villages were Ello, Okpagabi, Ogwule-Ankpa, Ogbangede, Ekwo, Enogaje and Okpanchenyi, he said.
Another area Christian leader from Agatu, John Ngbede, confirmed the attacks.
“It is true that Agatu is under attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen at the moment,” he told Morning Star News. “Many of our Christian brethren have been killed. The Muslim gunmen that are attacking our Christian communities are numerous; they are so many that we can’t count them. They are spread across all the communities and unleashing terror on our people without any security resistance.”
Most of the 6,000 Christians fleeing for their lives have taken refuge at neighboring Apa Local Government Area and at Obagaji, he said.
“We are tired of these unending bloodbaths being carried by the Fulanis,” Ngbede said. “Moreover, we would also want the Nigerian government to step into the matter by beefing up security and extending assistance to the victims of these attacks in the affected communities.”
In all, Christian leaders in Benue State said that the Muslim Fulani gunmen invaded seven Christian communities in one week in November, killing and maiming members of the communities.