Christian death toll in Nigeria mounts

Release International warns of strategy to drive Christians from north Nigeria and asks: ‘Who is arming and training the attackers?’ 

The death toll from the latest attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria has risen to more than 200, according to reports from journalists in Plateau State.

Upwards of 200 people in mainly Christian villages are reported to have been murdered by heavily-armed Fulani herdsmen. There are ongoing claims that some of the Fulani may have been accompanied by soldiers.

Christian leaders say the attacks by heavily armed herdsmen amount to ethnic and religious cleansing. They also accuse the military of standing by and failing to prevent the raids. Some even claim collusion by Islamist elements in the armed forces.

Global Christian News quoted a survivor who claimed a soldier had been among the attackers. The 21-yr-old, named in reports only as Baddis, said he scrambled into the roof and hid when the raiders came. ‘I could see through an opening in the ceiling. There were three Fulani, but one was them was a soldier. My parents said, “We have no guns.” Then they opened fire and killed my parents, my brother and his wife.’

Herdsmen armed with guns and machetes have raided ten communities near the state capital, Jos in the past two weeks. According to reports, they burnt down every house in Nghar village and slaughtered more than 70 people.

The attacks were carried out by armed Fulani herdsmen, who killed 549 people across 14 states last year, according to Amnesty International. That toll continues to rise. The Fulani have driven many thousands from their homes.

‘Retaliation for cattle rustling is the usual justification for these armed attacks,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, ‘But when did cattle became more precious than human lives? Many dismiss these claims as simply the pretext for ethnic and religious cleansing.

‘These murderous raids beg important questions. Why is the military apparently powerless to stop the slaughter of unarmed farmers? Who is arming and training these Fulani militants? And whose agenda does this killing of mainly Christian communities serve?

‘These long-running attacks by Boko Haram and the heavily armed Fulani point to a strategy to drive Christians from the north of Nigeria.

‘The government of Nigeria must protect its vulnerable Christian communities in the north. When claims are raised of cattle rustling, militants launch coordinated attacks on Christian villages and gun down unarmed men, women and children. It is leading to the widespread displacement of Christians from the north which the government seems unable or unwilling to halt.’

Release partner, Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, said: ‘I am in tears because I have taken a child whose mother was shot dead. A family of four killed, another two young men shot dead – are there no people of conscience who fear God? Where are those who will protect the poor? Where is the leadership?’

Release partners say missionaries trapped in a village managed to send messages about the attacks through social media calling for prayer for staff and children at their school. Although there were heavy casualties nearby – there were none at the school. ‘We are alive today because we knew people were praying!’ they said.

Thousands of people in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area lost their homes and crops in the attacks on Saturday and Sunday. The state government has imposed a curfew in many areas.

Release International has declared June 29, as Martyrs’ Day, to remember modern-day Christians who have died for their faith. Release is calling on Christians in the UK to pray for the grieving families in Nigeria and other lands where Christians are being killed.

Release is celebrating its 50th anniversary of serving the persecuted Church. Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.

Background stories:

Jos killings are an attack on Christendom, say church leaders

Slaughter of more than 200 people in Plateau State, Nigeria, shocks Christians

Amnesty International reveals how many Nigerians Fulani herdsmen killed in 2018

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