A nonprofit recently released a report estimating that over 1,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed this year in attacks led by Fulani extremists.
“Islamist Fulani militia continue to engage in an aggressive and strategic land grabbing policy in Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Southern Kaduna and parts of Bauchi state,” HART, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks persecutions, reported, according to the Christian Post. “They attack rural villages, forces villagers off their lands and settle in their place—a strategy that is epitomized by the phrase: ‘your land or your blood.’”
Though the death toll is currently unknown, Christians have become a target for Fulani herdsman. HART estimates that over 6,000 Christians have been killed since 2015 while 12,000 have been displaced. These numbers were based on Kaduna state government reports, media reports, and news from community leaders in Plateau state. Though Fulani herdsmen seem to be the major perpetrators, the terrorist group Boko Haram has also killed several Christians in Borno state.
“In every village, the message from local people is the same: ‘Please, please help us! The Fulani are coming. We are not safe in our own homes,’” the report said.
Fulani are largely Muslim nomadic people who live across West and Central Africa. Feuds between the farmers and herdsmen have become more commonplace as land becomes scarce.
Tensions between the groups have mounted and not all feuds are based on religion. Nonetheless, HART “suggests that religion and ideology play a key part.”
“Our home is destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire,” said one survivor from Karamai. “Life is frightening. We sometimes receive messages of a renewed attack. So we run to hide. We have no means of defense. We don’t have weapons to defend ourselves. There is no kind of security or vigilante support.”
The report comes only a few months after the Jubilee Campaign, a human rights NGO, told the International Criminal Court that the “standard of genocide has now been reached” in Nigeria, according to the Christian Post.
“We have been arguing for several years now, as well as to the International Criminal Court, that these have been crimes against humanity … I believe legally that we are now rising to the place of genocide,” said Campaign Director Ann Buwalda.
Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog group, ranked Nigeria as the 12th-worst nation in the world for Christian persecution.
“Something has to change—urgently,” said the report. “For the longer we tolerate these massacres, the more we embolden the perpetrators. We give them a ‘green light’ to carry on killing.”
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Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.