WASHINGTON — Nigerians from predominantly Christian tribes in Nigeria visited the United States this week to share how their tribes are now “homeless” and “sleeping under the skies” after recent massacres at the hands of Fulani radicals and unwanted actions taken by the government.
Two members from the Adara community, a majority Christian ethnic group in Southern Kaduna state, shared their experiences during a panel event sponsored by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation that also featured persecuted Nigerians from other parts of the country.
Alheri Magaji, the daughter of the current leader of the Adara Chiefdom, told the audience about how her ethnic group suffered vicious attacks carried out from mid-February through April this year that left about 400 dead and displaced thousands in her community.
“Right now my tribe is nonexistent legally,” Magaji explained. “Part of the reason why I am here is to try to get my land back. That is who I am. That is my identity. That is what makes me. My people are stranded. They are literally sleeping under the skies on the floor [with] no houses, no food, nothing. It is not about relief materials and how much we can donate. It's about holding the government accountable.”
As previously reported, a series of Fulani attacks were carried out in Adara communities in the Kajuru local government area in a span of a few weeks by suspected Fulani radicals. Along with the hundreds of lives taken, countless buildings were burned and destroyed.
Fulani herdsmen, many of which are Muslim, are a nomadic ethnic group found in West and Central Africa. While conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria has been ongoing for decades, Magaji and other panelists explained that attacks launched by Fulani radicals in the last few years are more atrocious than the farmer-herder conflicts that came before.
“I spoke to a woman whose limbs were cut off. She had four kids and was nine months pregnant,” Magaji recalled. “Fulani herdsmen came to a Kajuru town in February, about 400 of them with AK-47s. They came at around 6:30 a.m. They spoke Adara. They came in with war songs. They were singing songs that translate into ‘the owners of the land have come. It’s time for settlers to leave.’”
“We have 2-month-old babies, 6-month-old babies, babies in the bellies turned from their mother’s womb and slaughtered like animals, like chickens,” she continued. “We are here today to beg the U.S. government and for the world to hear our story.”
By the time the series of Fulani attacks occurred this past spring, the Adara tribe had already been pushed into a state of uncertainty. Magaji said last May that the Kaduna government passed a measure to split the Adara chiefdom and create a Fulani Muslim emirate in Kajuru.
The Adara community detested such a proposal. Magaji added that the Adara chief was kidnapped last Oct. 19 and murdered about a week later even though a ransom was paid for his release.
“It was when the chief died that the elders in our land realized that the governor … [said that] Adara Christians are now under a Muslim Hausa-Fulani emirate,” she explained. “It is so ridiculous that it was already signed into law and nobody knew about it. For a governor to make that kind of law in the first place without the people of the land knowing about it is illegal and unjust.”
Magaji said that the elders of her community tried to pressure the government but “nobody would listen.”
“When they realized that nobody was going to listen to them, they took the matter to court,” she explained. “A week after the civil case started in court, my dad and eight other elders were arrested and thrown into prison for no reason.”
Magaji said the state government blamed the Adara elders for the death of 66 Fulani herdsmen that were killed in February 2019.
“The problem we have with the statement the governor made is that on the 10th of February, 11 Adarra people were killed,” she said. “The government didn’t say anything about it even when the leaders of the community officially made statements.”
“Aren’t we citizens?”
Magaji said that in April, Kaduna Gov. Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai set up a commission to abolish indigeneship in the state. For the Adara community, she said, that means that the government is now taking away their chiefdom and their right to be considered an indigene of the state.
“We are wondering as Adarra people aren’t we citizens of Kaduna state?” she asked. "If you are taking away my chiefdom and there is no Adara anymore, are you saying that I am no longer even an indigene of Kaduna state?
"A Fulani man can come and register as a citizen of Kaduna state and get all the benefits of a citizen while I am a true indigene of the state and I get no allocations and I am not recognized at all?"
Last Friday, she said, another bill was passed allowing government officials to regulate preachers in the Kaduna state.
"It is so unbelievable sometimes that if I wasn’t living it, I wouldn’t believe it," she said.
"A government official is supposed to tell a preacher how to preach and what to say. The license is to be renewed every year. That tells you that if you don’t do what the government says, in a year, you lose your license, even in churches. It is only what the government allows you to say that you are allowed to say to the congregation."
Magaji fears that the Adara tribe will end up going "extinct."
"The government takes over and does whatever it wants to do," she added. "It's a plan that if it is not [halted] right now, it's going to be terrible for the world at large. There is a genocide going on. Every morning we wake up to different stories."
She said that anytime someone tries to speak out about what is happening to the Adara community, they are arrested. However, she added that no Fulani radical has yet been arrested for the mass killing of Adara citizens.
“As I stand here right now, I have been warned not to say a word because I might be killed,” she said. “If you speak about it, you could be killed, thrown in prison or harassed by the police.”
“What have I got to lose if I don’t talk?” she continued. “My family is killed every day. My dad was locked up for over 100 days. My tribe is now extinct. If I keep quiet, to what gain will that be? The people who die every day are human beings too. If I have an opportunity to let the world know what is happening in my hometown, I will do anything to be able to save even one life.”
Mercy Maisamari, the daughter of the head of the Adara Development Association who was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen and later released on ransom, said during the event that girls like her are kidnapped on a daily basis.
“They kidnap you, they do whatever, they beat you up, they abuse you,” she added. “Some will ask you, ‘Where is your Jesus? Call your Jesus to come and save you.’”
Fulani violence has troubled communities across many states in Nigeria. According to the nongovernmental organization International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, no less than 2,400 Christians were killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen across Nigeria in 2018.
Richard Ikiebe, president of the International Organization for Peacebuilding and Social Justice, explained that he has been told that there are around 70 communities in the Plateau state that have been “eradicated and repopulated” by Fulani herdsmen.
“Deliberate confusion of narrative”
Although the Nigerian government argues, as well as some human rights groups, that the crisis is just a “farmer-herder” conflict, Ikiebe contends that the conflict does have a religious element in addition to economic and transnational elements.
“It is a deliberate confusion of narrative that has been very successfully used on an international platform,” Ikiebe, the director for the Centre for Leadership in Journalism at Pan-Atlantic University, explained. “They will tell you that these skirmishes are just farmers and herders. I can tell you it is all of that. It is religious. Please believe it. What is happening in Nigeria is religion.”
Stephen Enada, the director of the International Committee on Nigeria, said that a rise in Fulani attacks was noticed in the Benue state between 2013 and 2016.
“Benue state was decimated and it is still being decimated and there is government inaction,” Enada said.
Napoleon Adamu, a member of the Agatu community in Benue state, told attendees of the event that the troubles for his community started in 2013 after years of peacefully cohabitating with Fulani herders.
Now, he says, his community has “nowhere to run.”
From 2013 to 2016, he said there were about 17 different attacks carried out by Fulani radicals. He said that in other parts of Benue, there were 29 attacks.
“The Fulanis that come over to Agatu this time are not the traditional Fulani that we used to know,” Adamu said. “We know that when the Fulanis come, they usually come with their children and their wives. But the ones we have now that come, come in large numbers and fully armed. It is not just small arms. We know Fulani to always be carrying their long knife and stick. But this time, they carry AK-47s that the government of Nigeria cannot buy for their own army.”
Adamu stressed that Fulani radicals “don’t go back without killing people and burning houses.”
“They choose to even burn houses because it is more difficult for people to come back and rebuild,” he explained. “Once they burn, their intention is to override the place and take over. That is their intention: taking over the land.”
According to Adamu, most of the Agatu people that have suffered from the attacks are homeless.
“The people are hardworking farmers and fisherman. But now, they don’t have anywhere to go again,” Adamu said. “They refuse to be counted as an IDP. They say they don’t want to go anywhere. We prefer to sleep under trees. [This land] is where we belong. Leaving the land for other people to take over, we have resisted. By the grace of God, we are still there and we are homeless. We have no voice.”
Just like in Kaduna, Adamu said the government has never made a public statement about the plight of the Agatu community.
“At the federal level, we have all the positions of authority taken over. We have no voice,” he said.
“This is not a make-believe story. There are things that we have seen and things that we have felt. Because we have this opportunity, we want to appreciate the government of the U.S. in the first place for the support they have been giving to Nigeria. But please, apart from your support, it is not everybody that is enjoying what you are giving.”