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As Muhammadu Buhari takes office he must address not only Boko Haram but also Fulani herdsman who continue to conduct deadly raids on Christians in central Nigeria

5/29/15 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) – Muslim Fulani cattle herders have murdered scores of Christians in the past month in central “Middle-Belt” Nigeria. As the country has now inaugurated a president who promises to get tough on Boko Haram, Christians in the region wonder if Muhammadu Buhari, who is also a Fulani Muslim, also means business against murderous herdsmen killing Christians.

In the past month, Fulanis have ravaged Christian farming communities almost on a weekly basis in Benue and Plateau states, slaughtering nearly 200 people from at least seven attacks. To make matters worse, government officials have refused to acknowledge the faith of the victims, instead describing the violence as a turf war.

 “It is the longstanding issue over grazing rights and cattle rustling between Egba and Fulani people,” police spokesman Ezeala Austin said after an attack in March 2015 that killed more than 80 Christians.

While squabbles over land and property have certainly formed the centerpiece of inter-tribal struggle historically, these frequent attacks on Christian communities bear all the marks of religious persecution. Survivors have told similar stories about the experience of a Fulani attack. Typically, dozens, if not hundreds of herdsmen ride into a village on horseback, setting buildings on fire and spraying bullets indiscriminately.

“They were shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar’ and also saying, ‘We must wipe out these infidel Christians today,’” one survivor of an attack in September 2014 recounted.

The “Middle-Belt region serves as the line where the majority Christian south pushes up against the predominantly Muslim north and conflict along religious lines is common.

Fulani Herdsmen and Buhari’s Security Policy

Meanwhile, the Islamic terror group Boko Haram grabs most of the headlines and the top of Buhari’s security agenda. “In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do. Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort until we defeat terrorism,” Buhari said after winning the Nigerian presidential election on March 28.

But does Buhari’s plan include defeating terrorist Fulani herdsmen also? To his credit, he has condemned attacks in the past, “if the people can no longer listen to their leaders, such crises might persist and make life more miserable for the people,” he said after the March massacre.

“Middle-Belt” Christians face many of the same threats to their safety that Christians in the north experience from Boko Haram, and they continue to live in fear, “The people are still living under fear and panic but we have assured them of adequate security,” a police spokesperson said after the region’s most recent attack by Fulani herdsmen that killed as many as 96 Christians in Benue state, according to reports.

The recent upsurge through the end of April and into May suggests that police lack the necessary capacity to provide adequate security, so improvements remain to be seen. Instead, Christians have had good reason to panic because this month’s attacks represent nothing new. Since the summer of 2014, the news has reported these kinds of assaults on Christians by Fulani herders in August, September, December, January, and March.

“In their quest to eliminate Christians in Plateau state and their thirst for blood, [they] have succeeded in killing Christians and burning their houses,” said a Plateau man who has survived Fulani attacks this May.

Because of the ongoing tragedy leading up to Buhari’s inaguration, he now faces the challenge of distancing himself from statements he has made in the past, which would only serve to embolden Muslim violence and persecution against Christians in central Nigeria.

“I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria,” Buhari said in 2001. “God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.”

However, at least in word, Buhari has tried to promote unity moving forward, “Christian and Muslim, Southern and Northern, rich and poor, young and old, man and woman. We are all citizens of Nigeria. There is no dividing line among us that I care to honor. Either we advance as one or fail altogether,” he said.

While Boko Haram’s heinous barbarism towards Christians should remain a top priority for the Buhari administration to snuff out, he must not ignore the significant persecution being perpetrated by members of his own tribe and religion. His predecessors had left it largely forgotten, and hundreds of Christians have paid for it with their lives.

For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: rm-africa@persecution.org

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