Radical Islamist herdsmen kill 500 Christians in a month – survivors afraid to bury their dead
In a series of attacks over the last month, radical Muslims have killed almost 500 predominantly Christian farmers in Benue state in central Nigeria. Muslim Fulani herdsmen launched a heavy attack against the Agatu farmers on 22 Feb and killed over 300 people in the first week.
“In the last three weeks, Aku, Odugbeho, Aila, Okokolo and Ikobi have been utterly destroyed and over 300 people have been killed,” said Stephen Enada, a development advocate campaigning against the killing of the Agatu people. He added “We have corpses littered in the field” as survivors were too frightened to return and bury the dead because the killers are reportedly still hiding out among villagers in the Christian villages.“ Up to 500 people have been killed over the past month and 7,000 villagers displaced from their homes.
A local inhabitant from one of the affected Christian communities, who came to Agatu together with the delegation from the presidency of Nigeria, said “Entire villages were burned down completely by Fulani herdsmen. Unidentified corpses of these Christians were discovered, properties were looted by these Fulani invaders. As I speak to you, Fulani herdsmen are living in the deserted villages. I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw.”
Although there are historical conflicts over land rights for cattle grazing versus farming in the region, it would be wrong to conclude that the mass killing of Christians is due only to tribal conflicts. Fulani leaders accused Agatu farmers of killing up to 10,000 cows; local villagers deny this, pointing out that they do not even have the means to slaughter such a large number of cows.
Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, agrees: “Such a mass slaughter would take weeks, and the skeletal remains of the cows would completely dot the landscape of Agatu, and the stench would permeate the air.” He believes there is a religious motive behind the attacks, with the radicals waging jihad to take over the villages.
The attacks have continued despite President Muhammadu Buhari ordering an investigation into the clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the Christian farmers, expressing his “deep shock” at the level of violence that has been committed. Nigerian officials have been slow to act against threats to life and property, allowing these crimes to continue unpunished and conveniently explained away as disputes over resources and historical tribal tensions.