In the first two months of 2020, Fulani herdsmen killed 350 Christians in Nigeria, according to research by the Nigeria-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law. The US-based human-rights advocacy group International Committee on Nigeria has reported that extremist Fulani herdsmen (traditionally Muslims) are responsible for 17,000 deaths between 2015 and 2020, with the great majority of victims being Christian farmers in the country’s Middle Belt region.
Unlike Boko Haram, which is also still active in the country with the goal of creating a caliphate, “Fulani militants have very localized objectives, mainly that of better access to pasture for livestock,” according to the Global Terrorism Index. The resulting land conflicts have taken on an ethnic and religious character, as the farmers who have had their land stolen are predominantly Christian.
Killings by Fulani herdsmen have continued apace in March and April. A summary of incidents reported by Nigeria-based media: on March 5, four Christians were killed in Benue State; seven perished in attacks March 13 and 14 in Plateau State; March 26 and 31 saw the murder of nine Christians in Kaduna State; on April 1 and 2, seven farmers were killed in Plateau State; three Christians were killed in Ondo State April 4; a Christian farmer was killed April 11 in Plateau State; on April 13,in Benue State, two Christians were decapitated and on April 14 in Plateau State, nine Christians were killed, including six children and a pregnant woman.
Father Samuel Aseer Aluga, now parish priest of St. Augustine’s Church in the Diocese of Lafia, Nasarawa State, confronted a Fulani herdsmen attack first-hand early last year. He recounts his experience to Aid to the Church in Need and reflects on Christian persecution in Nigeria in the light of the Easter season:
“It happened Jan. 1, 2019, when I was serving at St. John the Baptist Church in Keana, Nasarawa State. It was 5.30AM and members of the Catholic Women Organization had gathered in church to observe the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The women were singing and dancing when parishioners from the outstation of St. John came into church, carrying their belongings. They said the Fulani had been killing Christians at the outstation.
“The people were screaming for help. But police told me they did not have enough personnel on the ground to confront the number of Fulani attackers. They also said they lacked the kind of sophisticated weapons the assailants were using. In the end, the Fulani ransacked many outstations and a parish of 30 outstations went on lockdown. My parishioners and I became internally displaced persons. Some of the families who could not return home are still in my care. I rented a place for them.
“That day 15 parishioners were brutally slaughtered. This was happened on New Year’s Day when we were honoring our mother Mary and I felt let down and wondered if God were on our side. I asked myself why it was that I organized an occasion to honor the mother of God and this would happen on this same day. I wondered where our Mother was that she could not intervene but allowed these people to suffer.
“A year later, reflecting on the ongoing suffering caused by Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram and ISWAP, in the light of Easter, we can say first that suffering from times past has come to be part of human endeavors. This is in order to make humanity learn from its failings and to come back to their God for mercy.
“Although we suffer from different angles in this country, ranging from Islamist terrorism, to kidnapping and armed banditry, we need to be a people of hope. Let us turn to God our father and pray earnestly for Him to intervene.
“May we offer up our sufferings and sorrows to our Lord and Master Jesus who cried out on the cross of Calvary in pain and breathed out his Spirit for our sake. He said in the Gospel of St. John: ‘it is finished.’ So also, one day, all these crises and all this terror will finish. All we need do is to hold unto our faith, hoping that this too shall one day pass away.
“Easter is a special period in which the Church annually celebrates Jesus’ transitus, His passing from suffering and death to eternal resurrected glory. Our human experiences should not impede our celebration of the joy of the Triduum in its fullness.
“As we continue to contend with each day’s struggle, we need to be a people of hope, confident that the good Lord who raised Jesus from the dead will intervene in our situation and bring lasting joy and peace; He will call us to our own transitus—our own passage from death to life.”