Originally published in The Christian Mail
Radical Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria have killed close to 500 predominantly Christian farmers in Benue state in central Nigeria in a series of attacks over the last month, and are reportedly still hiding out among villagers, making survivors too afraid to return and bury the dead.
“In the last three weeks, Aku, Odugbeho, Aila, Okokolo and Ikobi have been utterly destroyed and over 300 people have been killed,” Steven Enada, a development advocate campaigning against the killing of the Agatu people, told Morning Star News.
“We have corpses littered in the field like a war fought in the Roman Empire by Emperor Nero,” he added, with survivors too afraid to return to bury the dead.
International Christian Concern said on Tuesday that in total close to 500 people have been killed over the past month, and thousands have died in clashes since 2001.
The Fulani herdsmen launched a heavy attack against the Agatu farmers on Feb. 22, and a week later had killed over 300 people in the slaughter.
Ikwulono John Anthony, an indigene of the affected Christian communities, said that some of the attackers are still in the villages.
“I took the risk and came to Agatu together with the delegation from the presidency of Nigeria, where we visited Obagaji, Egba, Aila, Adagbo, Okokolo, Akwu, Ugboju, Odugbeho and Odejo,” he said.
“Entire villages were burned down completely by Fulani herdsmen. Unidentified corpses of these Christians were discovered, properties were looted by these Fulani invaders. As I speak to you, Fulani herdsmen are living in the deserted villages. I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw.”
Fulani leaders are apparently accusing farmers of killing up to 10,000 cows, something which the local villagers deny.
Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, told Morning Star News that the villagers would not even have the means to slaughter such a large number of cows.
“Such a mass slaughter would take weeks, and the skeletal remains of the cows would completely dot the landscape of Agatu, and the stench would permeate the air,” he said.
Ogebe added that he feels there is religious motive behind the attacks, with the radicals waging jihad to take over the villages.
ICC has noted that although there are historical tensions over land rights for cattle grazing versus farming in the region, it would be wrong to conclude that the mass killing of Christians is due only to tribal conflicts.
“We must not allow the frequency and heightened brutality Christians continue to endure in this region to desensitize us to the real human loss and suffering they experience,” Troy Augustine, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, said back in February.
“Nigerian officials should follow their first mandate in protecting all Nigerians against violent threats to life and property, whatever the source, instead of allowing these crimes to continue unpunished and conveniently explained away through the lens of resource wars and historical tribal tensions.”
The attacks have continued despite President Muhammadu Buhari ordering an investigation into the clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the Christian farmers, expressing his “deep shock” at the level of violence that has been committed.
The ongoing attacks have also displaced close to 7 000 villagers from their homes.