JOS, Nigeria, June 21, 2019 (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen continued a campaign of seizing land for their cattle and territory for their religion this week, killing 11 Christians in eastern Nigeria’s Taraba state, sources said.
The herdsmen on Sunday and Monday (June 16-17) entered villages on motorcyles outside of the Taraba state capital, Jalingo, shooting firearms after attacks in the same area in early May that reportedly also killed 11 people in predominantly Christian villages.
“I know that 11 persons were killed and their corpses were taken to mortuaries in some hospitals in the town of Jalingo,” Joseph David, a 30-year-old resident of one of the communities attackd this week, told Morning Star News by phone.
He said the assailants arrived about 6 p.m. on Sunday and continued the assault the next day.
“The attacks were carried out by Muslim Fulanis riding Bajaj motorcycles,” he said. “They burned houses and shot us as we fled.”
The herdsmen attacked the predominantly Christian villages of Kona and ATC outside Jalingo, as well as Tudiri and Janibanibu villages in Ardo Kola County. Residents in the communities are mainly members of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria (UMCN), Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), Christian Reformed Church Nigeria, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of the Brethren (EYN).
Herdsmen also launched attacks in Taraba state in March and April, and there were unconfirmed reports of retaliatory attacks by predominantly Christian, ethnic Kona youths.
Fulani herdsmen have long attacked settled Christian farmers in Taraba state, including massacres backed by Islamist mercenaries in 2014. With assaults ramping up in Plateau, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Benue and Adamawa states as well, five years ago analysts began to see ties between the assailants and Islamic extremist groups keen to exploit longstanding ethnic, property and religious tensions.
While mainstream media have long portrayed heavily-armed herdsmen attacks on largely unarmed Christian farmers as mere conflict over land use, members of the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) issued a statement in April rejecting it.
“While we recognize there is a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities across the Sahel, we believe the current attacks in Nigeria, which do not occur in neighboring countries experiencing similar environmental challenges, can no longer be attributed to desertification or to a struggle for resources,” according to the statement, issued in Abuja as the result of an RLP consultation there. “They now occur with such frequency, organization and asymmetry that references to ‘farmer-herder clashes’ no longer suffice.”
The RLP statement notes that in a Feb. 26 ruling over a case involving militia violence in Benue state that claimed about 500 lives in 2016, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States rejected characterization of the attacks as communal clashes between farmers and herders. The ruling also dismissed the contention that the government of Nigeria could not be held responsible for ethnic crime committed by unidentified and unknown persons.
A new Website designed to shed light on sectarian conflict in Nigeria by Christian Solidarity International, which promotes human rights and religious liberty, states that Fulani tribal militias are the main drivers of sectarian violence in central Nigeria, especially in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba states.
“Like Boko Haram, they are inspired by the jihad and caliphate of their Fulani kinsman Usman dan Fodio,” John Eibner, chairman of international management at the Swiss-based CSI, notes on the Website. “The extensive death and destruction caused by Fulani terrorists rarely makes major headlines in the West. But, according to the Global Terrorism Index, ‘In 2018 alone, deaths attributed to Fulani extremists are estimated to be six times greater than the number committed by Boko Haram.’”
Unlike Boko Haram, Fulani militias do not target the Nigerian government or interests of western states; neither do they have a strong tradition of unleashing violence against other Muslims, although cattle rustling does sometimes does take place within their faith community, he states.
“Fulani attacks against villages, the destruction of crops, and kidnappings tend to be directed against Christian and traditionalist villagers, with the goal of driving them off their land and occupying it,” Eibner states on the Website (www.nigeria-report.org). “For the Fulani militias, the ideology and rhetoric of dan Fodio’s jihad are used to legitimize land grabbing. The violence of these Muslim Fulani militias tends to be conducted with impunity. The American and British-backed Nigerian Army – the largest in Africa and a major participant in many international peacekeeping missions – is unable or unwilling to confront Fulani militias.”
Violence of Fulani militias is often cast in reporting from think tanks and the media as a conflict over natural resources between nomadic herdsmen and settled farmers, aggravated by desertification, he states.
“Economic competition between these groups is indeed an important factor,” Eibner notes. “But this de-sectarianized narrative of the Fulani militias downplays the crucial role of violent jihad in the Fulani people’s historic tradition of colonial empire-building. It also glosses over the current links between Fulani militias and international jihadist networks on the one hand, and Islamists and Fulani ethnic chauvinists within Nigeria’s Fulani-dominated military and intelligence establishment on the other.”
Displacement and the effects of climate change are driving nomadic herdsmen, predominantly Muslim, southwards into largely Christian farming lands,” the CSI report acknowledges.
“Since 2016 Islamist-inspired Fulani militias have stepped up their brutal attacks across swathes of central and southern Nigeria, laying waste to mainly Christian villages, killing the villagers or driving them from their ancestral homes.”
The resultant chaos is driving Nigeria closer to failed-state status, Eibner notes.
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Source: Christian Headlines