Catholic bishops in central Nigeria are calling for an end to the “ethnic cleansing” of Christians after Muslim herdsmen slaughtered about 120 Christians during the weekend, the majority of whom were returning from a church funeral.
“Do not make the same mistake that was made with the Rwandan genocide,” said the bishop of Gboko, William Amove Avenya, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need released Tuesday. “It was there for everyone to see, but nobody stopped it. And we know how it ended.”
As Breitbart News reported Tuesday, heavily armed gunmen identified as Fulani herdsmen opened fire in a number of villages in Plateau State last weekend, killing about 120 and injuring more than 200 more as they returned from the funeral of the father of a local Christian minister. The herdsmen also burned 50 homes to the ground.
Mainstream media downplayed the religious nature of the attack and the identity of the assailants, variously describing the incident as an example of “ethnic tensions” or a “battle for land and resources.” The Associated Press (AP) went so far as to attribute the attacks to “climate change,” alleging that herders in central Nigeria have been “forced south into more populated farming communities in search of safe grazing.”
ACN reported there have always been clashes between the Muslim Fulani herders and local farmers, who are mostly Christian, but whereas in the past these conflicts could be primarily of an ethnic or economic nature, “today the religious factor seems to have gained the upper hand.”
Last weekend’s massacre is just the latest in a string of such incidents. According to official data, 492 victims have been killed since the beginning of the year in the Benue State alone.
“They are criminals and terrorists but they do not do the same things in the territories with a Muslim majority,” Bishop Avenya said. “We are convinced that ethnic cleansing is being carried out against Christians.”
The prelate is not alone in his analysis.
Bishop Peter Iornzuul Adoboh of Katsina Ala and Bishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia also believe the attacks represent a “clear agenda for Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt” by using Fulani shepherds.
“They want to strike Christians,” Bishop Audu said, “and the government does nothing to stop them, because President Buhari is also of the Fulani ethnic group.”
The suspicion of government collusion with the slaughters does not stem solely from the inactivity of the federal police, but also from the fact that the Fulani herdsmen are equipped with increasingly sophisticated weapons.
“Once these herdsmen traveled about armed only with sticks,” Bishop Avenya said. “Now they are armed with AK 47 rifles, expensive weapons that they cannot afford. Who provides them? And in those areas there are checkpoints every two kilometers; is it possible that armed men traveling with herds suddenly become invisible?”
On May 22, all of the Catholic dioceses of Nigeria joined a protest march to plead with the government to protect Christians.
“Our faithful are killed or live in conditions of displaced people because of the violence,” said the bishops of Lafia and Katsina Ala, “and the West still looks on the Fulani as an internal problem. Do not do as you did with Rwanda; do not wait for the genocide to take place before intervening!”
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