By Troy Augustine and Sandra Elliot
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has instructed the country’s security agencies to clamp down on radical Fulani militias ravaging villages from the North to Southeast, but Christian leaders remain skeptical that anything will noticeably change on the ground.
Following bloody attacks by Fulani herders on three Christian villages in Enugu State in southeastern Nigeria that have claimed as many as 57 lives, Buhari has assured the suffering communities that he is “acting with deliberation and moving methodically to implement his Change Agenda for the good of the country.”
Though he did, at least, express his condolences for those who perished. The president made his claims through aides at the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) held in the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday night, May 2.
Buhari said that he had ordered police to “go after the groups terrorizing innocent people all over the country.”
Buhari stands in a long line of Nigerian politicians who have talked tough on security. To his credit, Boko Haram’s capacity and ability to launch conventional attacks and control territory has been greatly reduced during the first year of Buhari’s administration. However, the past week’s comments represent the first time Buhari has mentioned any immediate security policy initiatives regarding the Fulani herdsmen attacks.
Christian leaders approach hopelessness as the brutal attacks continue nearly unabated.
“I feel bitter, I feel aggrieved, I feel sad that the government…cannot protect us,” The Archbishop of the Anglican Communion of Enugu, Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, said, “We call on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in Igbo land over the Fulani herdsmen’s threat to security in the zone.”
Several church leaders from the Southeast region echoed Chukwuma as the government and media continue to underestimate the terrorist threat.
Fulani Crisis Still Under-Reported
While headlines from Nigeria continue to highlight the vicious crimes of jihadist group, Boko Haram, the Fulani massacres receive little attention from mainstream media; all this despite the fact that the Global Terrorism Index of 2015 accredited 81 percent of deaths in the Middle Belt of Nigeria to Fulani terrorists.
A typical Fulani attack looks like this: Heavily armed herders will enter villages, typically late at night, wielding machetes, gasoline, and AK-47 assault rifles, murdering villagers and setting whole towns ablaze. Nigerian Christians believe that their goal is territorial expansion in the name of radical Islam.
The mainstream media regularly attributes these attacks to cattle feuds and retributory acts, but the fact remains that Christians remain the primary targets of these radical Muslim militias.
Nigerian authorities notoriously and continually under-report the body counts from Fulani attacks. Nigerian sources originally reported the February Benue massacre where more than 500 people died, at 145 killed, less than half the total count
Also, the BBC claimed Fulani militias killed only 1,200 people across Nigeria in 2014. World Watch Monitor reported nearly that number, 1,159, from 2014 to July 2015 in Taraba State, alone. In January, ICC’s Nigerian contacts counted at least 100 dead following a Fulani herder attack in Adamawa State, while the BBC reported just 29 killed.
Buhari Finally Breaking Silence While Threat Expands
The April 25attacks in Enugu State show that the Fulanis have advanced beyond Nigeria’s “Middle-Belt” and into the Southeast, spreading fears of the group’s wider territorial reach. In more than two decades of conflict with the Fulani herders, their goal seems to remain: displace Christians and occupy their land.
“No week passes by without our women being raped and our men killed by the herdsmen,” explained Christian community leader John Ako.
Such fates are all-too-common for Nigerian Christians, while the crisis remains under-reported.
The Nigerian government’s lethargic response to the Fulani attacks has only made matters worse for suffering Christians.
Following the most recent attacks, President Buhari insisted that his administration will deal with the assailants decisively and expeditiously. However, Buhari simply spoke through aides and includes this action item lost in a laundry list of policy initiatives. . His indirect and non-specific plan for dealing with the Fulani herdsmen is hardly reassuring to the weary victims of rape and murder.
“We will believe Buhari only when his words play out in actions,” Rev. Dachollom Datiri, Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) President, told ICC. “I really hope [that] Mr. President meant what he said.”
While Boko Haram continues to capture international attention for their atrocities in Nigeria, the Fulani Herdsmen have enjoyed almost complete impunity thus far.
While Buhari declares steps toward confronting the Fulani threat, Christians are still perishing on a weekly basis, standing for their faith and dying at the hands of terrorists.