Date: February 14, 2018
by Elizabeth Kendal On 30 January Amnesty International (AI) reported that 'In 2017, clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers resulted in at least 549 deaths and thousands displaced' across fourteen states and that 168 were killed in the Middle Belt states of Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna in January 2018 alone. Furthermore, Morning Star News reports that between 22 and 25 January eight Christians were killed in Plateau State in four ambushes, while 50 houses belonging to Christians were destroyed in two separate attacks 'carried out by Muslim Fulani herdsmen aided by terrorists from Islamic extremist groups'. Director of AI Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, laments: 'Hundreds of people lost their lives last year, and the government is still not doing enough to protect communities from these violent clashes. Worse, the killers are getting away with murder.' As AI notes, the violence has escalated since several states moved to rein in the Fulani herdsmen by enacting anti-grazing laws. Benue State enacted its Anti-Open Grazing Law on 1 November. On 11 January thousands attended a state funeral and mass burial in Makurdi, the state capital, for 73 mostly Christian victims of the latest clash which the State Emergency Agency estimates has displaced a further 40,000 local residents. Benue State Governor Sam Ortom told CNN: 'They [the Fulani herdsmen] had threatened to wipe out the whole state if we did not repeal the law and allow their cattle to graze wherever they like.' Despite the huge toll, Benue State information commissioner, Lawrence Onoja, defended the Anti-Open Grazing Law, telling the BBC, 'Our economy in Benue State depends on agriculture. Take that away and we have a serious problem.' Writing for QUARTZ Africa, Mark Amaza observes that, in the absence of government action, two trends are emerging: (1) ethnic groups are forming their own militias and launching both reprisal and pre-emptive attacks; (2) states are creating or backing extra-legal paramilitaries to fight the various militias. With Nigeria awash with illicit weapons and increasingly saturated with hate-speech, the propensity for spiralling violence is very real. The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) South West region, Archbishop Magnus Atilade, describes the current situation as 'the perfect recipe for another civil war'. Despite this being a law and order issue and police matter, the Nigerian government announced on 7 February that it will deploy troops to Middle Belt. Exercise Ayem Akpatuma (Operation Cat Race) will commence on 15 February and last until 31 March. Whilst many welcome the move, which Jane's Intelligence maintains will 'reduce civil war risks', many are doubtless nervous. In a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday 16 January, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) questioned the neutrality of the Buhari government and its Security Forces noting that on 17 January 2017 'the Nigerian Air Force, "accidentally", in broad daylight, bombed a Christian Internally Displaced Persons camp and killed over 200 Christian refugees in Rann, Kala-Balge Local Government Area in Borno State'. In another case, on 4 December 2017, the Nigerian Air Force sent an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 attack Helicopter to Numan, Adamawa State, allegedly to fire 'warning shots' at Islamist militia attacking Christians there. An investigation by AI revealed that, while 51 Christians died of gunshot and machete wounds, a further 35 died as a direct result of the airstrikes which destroyed some 3000 homes across five villages. Most shockingly, on 25 January 2018, Nigeria's Minister of Defence, Col. Mansur Mohammed Dan-Ali (rtd), justified the recent killings in Benue State by blaming the victims and attributing the violence to the unwillingness of the affected, mostly Christian, farming communities to accommodate their 'fellow Nigerians'. 'Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!' he said. Officials in Benue, including members of Dan-Ali's own party, are calling for him to be sacked. Until Christians can trust their government and their military, they have every reason to feel nervous about a massive deployment of troops into their region. PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL * grace his Church with wisdom to navigate these times, and that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd will guide all pastors and all Christian leaders as they seek to lead God's people and their nation through dangerous and difficult days. * protect his precious, faithful Church, for the Church is Nigeria's hope. We pray in particular for all pastors, evangelists and peacemakers, along with all churches and Bible colleges, for they are especially exposed and vulnerable; may the Lord be their shield even as conflict rages around them. * intervene in Nigeria, to raise up godly political and civic leaders at every level; may they be committed to justice and righteousness and equipped with wisdom and strength to lead the nation into healing.