A shocking 225 Christians were massacred in Nigeria in March by the radical Fulani herdsmen, according to a watchdog group. Yet the Nigerian government and Western media are failing to take adequate notice of the severity of the escalating crisis, the group said.
International Christian Concern, which monitors attacks on Christians around the world and has been shining a focus on Nigeria, said last week that followers of Christ suffered 27 attacks by the Fulani in March alone.
The raids, mostly in the Plateau and Taraba states, led to the deaths of 225 Christians, along with the destruction of homes and and displacement of thousands of families.
Despite the ongoing, years-long carnage, the attacks by the Fulani — who are largely nomads — are not receiving as much coverage as those by Boko Haram, the other major terror group in Nigeria, ICC told The Christian Post.
Yet in comparison, Boko Haram killed a total of 37 people in March, many of whom were Nigerian military personnel.
"There are several reasons that the West doesn't say much about Fulani-led violence. First is that they already spend a lot of time and effort covering the Boko Haram situation. This is a far more attractive discussion to the West because it has the terrorist designation tied to it. The Fulani have not been designated as such since 2014 when the designation was assigned and then quickly taken away," ICC Regional Manager Nathan Johnson told CP Friday.
"Second is that the West believes that this is either just a socioeconomic conflict between herdsmen and farmers or an ethnic conflict between clashing ethnic groups. Many are not willing to call it more than that," Johnson added.
"Finally, the Nigerian government isn't speaking about it. They do not want to bring attention to this problem as it would attract more negative media aimed at their government. All of these factors combined lead to silence among most Western media outlets."
The watchdog group listed on its website the various attacks on Christians by the Fulani in March.
While fewer Fulani attacks were recorded in February, January was also a very deadly month.
Survivors from a raid in Benue State shared their stories. A man, identified only as Peter, said that sometimes the attackers are people from the same community.
"I got up and called them by their names and tried to wrestle the machete they had out of their hands, but to no avail. I was overpowered and they began to cut me," the man recalled of the attack that left him in a hospital.
ICC explained that there most definitely is a religious aspect to the violence, with the Muslim Fulani specifically slaughtering Christians in their village raids.
"Though there are socioeconomic and ethnic components to these attacks, the majority of attacks are directed at Christian villages. If the attacks were simply driven by socioeconomic or ethnic factors, churches would not be common targets during these attacks. In most of the villages that have been ransacked over the past decade, churches and pastoral homes have been destroyed," Johnson told CP.
He said that while disputes and fights do occur between Fulani and other Muslim communities, they are on a much smaller scale, with some reports also suggesting that the Fulani warn Muslims in certain communities before carrying out their attacks.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari initially spurred hope in the Christian population in the country when he came to power in 2015 with his hardline stance against Boko Haram.
Christian leaders, including from groups such as the Christian Association of Nigeria, have strongly criticized his administration for failing to do anything significant about the Fulani raids on Christians, however.
"Under President Buhari, the murderous Fulani herdsmen enjoyed unprecedented protection and favoritism to the extent that the herdsmen treat Nigeria as a conquered territory," the Rev. Musa Asake, general secretary of CAN, said earlier this year.
"Rather than arrest and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen, security forces usually manned by Muslims from the North offer them protection as they unleash terror with impunity on the Nigerian people."
Johnson suggested that since Buhari comes from a Muslim Fulani background himself, and with the country split nearly 50-50 between its Christian and Muslim population, it would be "political suicide" for him to denounce the Fulani attacks.
"He would lose a lot of support by saying that his own people and religious community were conducting these types of atrocities," the ICC regional manager pointed out.
"As for the Nigerian government and military, I believe that their lack of ability to cope with this situation shows either ineptitude, or some form of complicity. There are several ideas circulating about how the government should respond. When I met with several Nigerian representatives and senators in Abuja in February, they expressed a desire for the institution of state police, the creation of nationwide anti-open grazing bills, and the right of communities to defend themselves from these attacks with guns," he added.
"Regardless of how they go about it, I believe that the Nigerian government must do three things. First, they must reclaim land that has been taken by Fulani. Second, they must rebuild the communities that have been destroyed. Lastly, they must protect their people from future attacks."
With little Western attention on the matter, Johnson also talked about where Christians in Nigeria can turn to for hope.
"First, I believe that the people of Nigeria need to work to get rid of the corruption in their government and unite themselves as a nation. There is too much division across ethnic and tribal lines for the country to truly be one," he said.
"Next, there are many groups like ICC doing work to help those suffering in Nigeria. Finally, and most importantly, they need to remain in prayer. Their main hope should come from Christ and his ability to transform lands."