Reports that the death toll from a recent flare-up in violence across northern Nigeria has exceeded 200 prompted a fresh warning at the weekend of a “strategy” to drive out Christians.
A group which monitors Christian persecution has re-iterated its concern the targeting of mainly Christian villages by Muslim-majority Fulani herdsman amounts to “ethnic and religious cleansing”.
There have been claims the bloodshed is being fuelled by cattle rustling and the displacement of communities stemming from a southward advancement of the Sahara Desert – and subsequent disputes over access to land.
But Release International said on Sunday “the picture of much bigger than that”.
Spokesman Andrew Boyd told Premier: “The effect of it is to displace many thousands of people.
“The interests that it serves is [sic] the interests of those who want to see the ethnic and religious cleansing of certain tribes, and the Christian faith from the north of Nigeria.”
Some local church leaders suspect the Fulani herdsmen may have been armed and supported thanks to collusion involving Islamist elements within the country’s military.
Equipped with guns and machetes, they have attacked ten villages near the regional capital Jos in the last fortnight.
Describing the recent violence, Andrew Boyd continued: “They’ll set fire to some of the house. The villagers flee the flames and they flee the bullets.
“They rush outside their villages where these guys are lying in wait with them – sometime with nets which they use to catch animals – and they’re then hacking them down with machetes.”
Release International’s Paul Robinson added: “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.”
By Alex Williams