As attacks continue against Christians in Nigeria, there are warnings of food insecurity as farmers are driven from their lands. There have been calls to urgently reinstate displaced Christian farmers to prevent a food crisis.
The wave of attacks against Christians described as Black Christmas, are continuing. Even as a news conference in the capital Abuja was calling for tightened security and emergency relief aid, fresh attacks were raging.
Speakers at the conference hosted by partners of UK-based Release International warned repeatedly of genocide. Figures compiled by the Stefanos Foundation estimate almost 42,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed in a concerted wave of violence since 2001.
In 2023 alone militant Fulani Islamists carried out 686 attacks against Nigerian communities, killing 4,357 people and abducting more than 1,900 others.
The conference warned that food shortages could result from the seizing of ancestral farmlands by militant Fulani cattle herders. It called for the immediate resettlement of displaced farmers to avert a food crisis in Nigeria.
And even as the conference was underway, the attacks were still raging.
An attack on Jan 24 on two counties in Plateau State claimed at least 25 lives, according to media reports. Over the Christmas period, targeted attacks by Fulani militia claimed 238 lives.
Many of those who are being targeted are Christians. Their churches are burned, and the farming population are driven off the ancestral lands.
Release International supports persecuted Christians around the world. Its partner Mark Lipdo said some of these tribal lands had now become ‘no-go zones’ for the largely Christian ethnic groups who are their rightful owners.
Mr Lipdo described the areas under attack as the food basket of Nigeria. He warned: ‘Unless the displaced farmers can be resettled in their ancestral lands there will be a food shortage in Nigeria in the days to come.
‘These attacks are being seen by local Nigerians as a jihad, like the jihad of 200 years ago. This is why they are targeting Christmas and targeting churches. The Fulani are continuing the legacy of the ancestors. What is happening is a religious war.
‘It is taking over the whole of Nigeria. Fulani militants are roaming around with heavy firearms. And nothing is being done by the authorities. We are hoping the authorities will come to their senses.’
During the news conference Fulani militants were again attacking Mangu Local Government Area. According to reports, they killed two people on a road before launching an attack on Sabon Kasuwa on January 23. There, the militants burnt down a Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) church and other buildings.
The attack continued into the following day (Jan 24) claiming 25 more lives, according to reports.
In a statement to the Nigerian media the Bokkos Cultural Development Council (BCDC) described the attacks as ‘persistent genocide’ and a ‘threat to our existence to exterminate us and take over our land.’
They dismissed the notion often rehearsed in the Western media that the attacks are simply a clash between herders and farmers of different tribes with different ways of living. They said: ‘We are not engaged in any so-called “farmer-herder clashes”. What we are witnessing is pure pre-meditated mass murderer of our people.
‘If the goal is to annihilate us through systematic genocide, then we take our case to the government and to God our creator. As Christians, we have faith in God who created us and placed us on the land of Bokkos. He will never leave us nor forsake us.’
The statement was given at the news conference and signed by BCDC President Prof. Stephen Jackdell Malo and others. It described the Black Christmas attacks from December 23-26, 2023 as a ‘well-coordinated, premeditated plan by Fulani terrorists and hired mercenaries.’
The attackers swept into 24 villages in that area alone, killing 200, driving 19,000 from their homes and burning eight churches, along with more than 1,000 houses.
The claim of genocide was repeated by Sir Joseph Gwankat, the National President of Mwanghavul Development Association. He told the conference: ‘Fulani militia are determined to commit genocide against our people. This attack, that has continued to escalate unabated, is an agenda for ethnic cleansing and land grabbing.’
In his region of Plateau State he said that more than 82 villages had been attacked by well-armed Fulani militants. As well as looting and burning property and farms, they attacked churches, razing some completely. And some villages have now been attacked twice or even three times.
He added: ‘The threat of pending attacks from the Fulani is not over. Our people continue to live in fear, while many cannot go back to their homes, either for fear of being attacked again, or because their homes have been completely destroyed.’
In Plateau State, Sir Joseph said more than 500 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced. ‘Hundreds of children have been made orphans and hundreds of hectares of crops destroyed. This has been done with a mission – to drive us out of the land and occupy it. This land is the heritage our grandparents handed to us over the centuries.’
He and other speakers made an urgent appeal for food, clothing, shelter, medication ‘and above all security’. He said it was no longer possible for his people to return to their ancestral homes.
A representative of another tribal group, the Berom, also addressed the press conference, which was streamed live on Facebook (Meta).
Da Gyang Dudu Dalyop, President of the Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation, was one of several speakers who criticised the security services for failing to prevent the attacks, arrest the attackers, or recover land they had seized.
Accusing the authorities of ‘double-dealing’, he said: ‘Most early warning signs of planned attacks are made available to the security agencies, yet those attacks still take place.
‘There has been no arrest and prosecution of these terrorists, who still walk freely in the streets. And this has encouraged the perpetrators to continue.
‘While these terrorists occupy the houses of displaced people and take over their ancestral homes, security agents watch. It amounts to obvious complicity.
‘The location of these terrorists is not hidden from the security agencies. Yet they take no action. The mass attacks on our communities kill, destroy, and occupy. It is like a genocide, or ethnic cleansing. And all this is met with indifference from security operatives.’
Release International partners repeatedly warn the authorities of pending attacks, based on intelligence received. And many of those warnings have gone unheeded. In one attack on Plateau State, it is claimed soldiers withdrew their presence from the area prior to the attack, and although the military barracks were within sight and sound of the area, soldiers failed to turn out to repel the attackers.
Wave of attacks
Release International partner Mark Lipdo traced the current wave of violence from the 7th of September crisis in 2001 in Jos, in Plateau State, through to the present Black Christmas attacks.
Stefanos Foundation has been keeping records of those who have died in the violence. Says Mark Lipdo, ‘In the 22 years from 2001 to 2023, Stephanos Foundation has recorded 5,344 instances of violence that have claimed 41,879 lives. Boko Haram violence has killed 17,406, And Fulani attacks have killed 14,605.’
He said there had also been more than 11,000 cases of kidnappings around the country.
‘Defenceless people are attacked and killed with guns and machetes in their homes in the middle of the night; their houses are burnt, their property looted, and the entire community is displaced. Our people must have security to be able to live in peace. We must have humanitarian support. Our homes have been burnt and we are struggling with machete wounds and the loss of lives. We need medical help.
‘What makes it worse is that the attackers are neither apprehended nor prosecuted. The situation calls for urgent action. ‘We are calling on the government to rise up and bring justice to the situation.
Appeal for aid
‘Thousands are in camps with a dire need for food, medicine, clothes, and shelter. We are calling all humanitarian agencies to visit the survivors and assist in every way possible.’
Paul Robinson is the CEO of UK-based Release International. He says: ‘Forty-two thousand Nigerians have been killed. Many of those are Christians. Their communities, their houses and their churches are being deliberately targeted. For good reason, our partners and many others are using the word genocide.
‘We are witnessing a land-grab and ethnic-religious cleansing. And time and again, the Nigerian military has simply let it happen. For decades, many in the international community have attributed the violence to farmer-herder clashes. This view is naive. What we are seeing has all the hallmarks of a jihad.
‘While the international community must take action, we are also calling on Christians to pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are being killed in their thousands.’
Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to provide prayerful, pastoral, and practical support to the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families. It also supports Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.