Christians in Nigeria are calling for urgent action after a “nightmare” string of attacks.
The president of the Evangelical Church Winning (ECWA), Rev Dr Stephen Baba Panya, compared the violence in Irigwe, Plateau State, to a “genocide”, with at least 70 people killed in the preceding fortnight and countless others injured.
The attackers, believed to be members of the Fulani people group, targeted farming communities in Plateau State and southern Kaduna.
Dr Panya said a wave of attacks on the predominantly Christian Irigwe ethnic group between 23 July and 2 August had been “the worst nightmare”.
He accused the security forces of doing little to prevent the violence.
“Many of the villages, where these killings and burnings are taking place, are basically located behind the 3rd Armoured Division Barrack of the Nigerian Army, yet, these militias are allowed to continue their heinous murders and carnage without any intervention by the Nigerian Army and other security agencies[…], eroding the confidence of the populace in the military and security agencies, as unbiased protectors of all, devoid of tribe, ethnicity or religion,” he said.
He added that the authorities had failed to hold “AK-47 wielding” militias to account while instead “the indigenous youth who tried to defend themselves with crude instruments are paraded as aggressors.”
In the Bassa local government area (LGA), Plateau State, attackers burnt down over 400 houses and destroyed at least 15 villages, leaving around 20,000 people displaced.
Churches and an orphanage were caught up in the violence, and thousands of hectares of farm crops deliberately destroyed.
According to Jonathan Asake, president of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, at least 48 people were killed and 100 homes razed to the ground in more attacks in Kaura LGA, southern Kaduna.
While much of the violence afflicting Nigeria has traditionally been confined to the north, there are signs of it spreading to the south after a number of deadly attacks by Fulani assailants and reports of murder, kidnapping for ransom, and the destruction and occupation of farmlands.
In one horrific incident in the southern state of Enugu on 1 August, a pregnant woman was killed and her unborn baby removed from her stomach and placed on her body.
Locals claim that the police arrived some 24 hours after the attack, which killed eight others, and only released the bodies of an earlier attack for burial on the condition that they signed over land to Fulani herders.
Kiri Kankhwende, head of public affairs at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the attacks were occuring in Plateau, southern Kaduna and Enugu “with apparent impunity”.
She said it was time for the international community to act.
“Indigenous ethno-religious minorities are being targeted in a relentless campaign of violence which involves decimation, displacement, and demographic alteration, and which accelerates during farming or harvesting seasons, indicating a deliberate effort to engineer starvation and complete economic disempowerment,” she said.
“It is time for the international community to put aside debates about the origins and nature of this violence and to focus instead on pressing and assisting Nigeria to address this network of organised armed non-state actors.