Catholic leaders claim that a process of ethnic cleansing is taking place in Nigeria, targeting the country’s Christians.
During a webinar organised by the head office of Aid to the Church in Need, clergy from Nigeria spoke of the atrocities that have been carried out by members of the Fulani ethnic group, who are mostly Muslim.
“They have an agenda, which is the Islamisation of this country. And they are doing that by carefully eliminating all the Christians and occupying the territories”, said Bishop Wilfred Anagbe, of the diocese of Makurdi, in Benue state.
The bishop and other church leaders have refused to accept the official narrative that blames the violence on clashes between nomadic Fulani herdsmen who have been forced southward by climate change, and mostly Christian farmers.
“It is not just about issues of grazing. For me, this is a religious war. If it was about grazing, why kill people? And why burn their homes?” he said.
Fr Joseph Fidelis, from the diocese of Maiduguri, said he opposed the prevailing narrative of “clashes” or “conflicts” between opposing groups. “It is not a ‘clash’, it is a slow genocide. To displace people from their ancestral homeland, deprive them of their livelihood and butcher them is a form of genocide.”
Johan Viljoen, director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute of South Africa, who has visited Nigeria to investigate the violence, described a “concerted, well-planned occupation” and alleged collusion with the state, all the way up to President Muhammadu Buhari.
High-level state involvement is said to be one reason why the armed forces have proven unwilling to step in and control the violence. “I don’t think the army is trying to solve anything. If anything, they would try to promote it”, said Viljoen, recalling that following years of violence “not a single Fulani has been prosecuted for the violence.”
Bishop Anagbe emphasised that the armed forces lie under the direct control of the President and, furthermore, “all the service chiefs, from the navy, army air force and police are Muslims”.
According to official figures, around 3,000 have died in this wave of violence over the past few years, but those on the ground said that the number could be as high as 36,000, with many more displaced, destitute, or deeply traumatised by their experiences. With many NGOs leaving the danger zones, the Catholic Church and its institutions are often the only reliable alternatives to get aid to the people on the ground.