19 Nigerian Christians Gunned Down in Church–as Fulani Militants Crisis Intensifies
As we’ve reported, violence against Christians in northern Nigeria continues to increase as Muslim Fulani militant herdsmen attack Christian villages and churches, killing and setting fire to everything in their path. We have reports that on Tuesday, April 24, armed men believed to be Fulani herdsmen stormed a Catholic church in Ukpor-Mbalom community, in Gwer East Local Government Area in Benue State. Nineteen people were killed, including the two priests leading the service.
According to local sources, the worshippers were gathered in their St. Ignatius Church at about 5:30 am for their morning Mass when the attack occurred. Services had barely begun and worshippers were still coming in for the service when sounds of rapid gunshots filled the air. The gunmen claimed 19 lives, including Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha. Several others also sustained bullet wounds.
According to local police, after attacking the church, the armed men descended on the Christian community and razed more than 60 homes, farmland and food barns.
Buhari Condemns Attacks
A day later, April 25, Nigeria’s House of Representatives summoned Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari over the killings. The assembly also passed a vote of no confidence in the country’s service chiefs for the armed forces and all the security advisers to the president. The lawmakers in the lower legislative chambers will suspend sitting for three days in solidarity with Nigerians over the killings.
On Twitter, President Buhari publicly condemned what he called a “despicable” and “evil” act:
This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) April 24, 2018
Recurrent attacks in Benue State
In recent months, attacks attributed to Fulani herdsmen militants have become recurrent in Benue in recent months. Since the introduction in November 2017 of a controversial law banning open grazing by herders in the state, attacks have been carried out on an almost daily basis.
In January, 80 people were killed and 80,000 forced to flee in a spate of violence in the state. The funerals on January 11 for 73 victims in Makurdi, Benue’s capital, were broadcast live.
One of the deadliest attacks to have taken place in Nigeria in recent years took place in Benue on February 21, 2016, when over 500 villagers were massacred and over 7,000 displaced from 10 villages.
In reaction to the latest massacre this week, the deputy governor of Benue, Benson Abuonu, said the state was “under siege.”
“We have been attacked from all corners, and this is unacceptable,” he said. “What happened … is a calculated attack, well planned and executed.
“They must have taken their time; they hit their targets and they got what they desired to do.”
Motivated by Resources and Religion
The Catholic Church also denounced the attack. In a statement, Fr. Moses Iorapuu, the director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, said: “In their classic style, they [the herdsmen] burn down homes, destroy food items and kill. The police seem to know nothing of the attacks, which have been going on in other villages within Benue State since the Anti-Open-Grazing Law came into effect last year,
“Many people are asking why the international community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue citizens? The answer is simple: It has been the goal of the jihadists to conquer Benue and [the] Tiv people [an ethnic group], who resisted their advance into the Middle Belt since 1804; the people who rejected Islam and fought for the unification of Nigeria in the civil war of 1967-1970.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria denounced a “state of anomie [immorality]” and called on all churches nationwide to stage peaceful protests on Sunday, April 29, to say “No” to bloodshed in Nigeria.
In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index described Fulani militants as the fourth-deadliest known terrorist group in the world.
Two years later, the 2017 Global Terrorism Index stated that Fulani militant herdsmen had undertaken more attacks and were responsible for more deaths in Nigeria in 2016 than Boko Haram. In 2016, reports indicated that the herdsmen had been responsible for 60,000 deaths since 2001. In the last year alone, Fulani militants have razed more than 50 villages and over the last four months have killed now 516 Christians.
Praying With Our Nigerian Family
- Pray with us for those who have lost loved ones in this recent attack. Ask God to comfort and sustain them in their heartache.
- Pray that all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered loss in the recent violence would find hope and strength.
- Pray that this Sunday’s protests among churches throughout Nigeria would be peaceful and that many would stand in unity and solidarity with believers in northern Nigeria against this growing and constant violence.
- Pray that churches in Benue State and all of northern Nigeria would be unified as they respond to and speak out about the increasing bloodshed of Christians.
- Pray with Open Doors for wisdom and discernment as we speak to the U.S. presidency and government leaders about deadly Fulani violence that has claimed the lives of now 517 Christians over the last four months alone.
- Pray for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his government. The 75-year-old leader was born to a Fulani family, his father a Fulani chief who died when Muhammadu was four. Pray that God would awaken his heart and mind to address the Fulani issue with urgency and justice.
Top photo is used for representative purposes only.