The global independent report on the persecution of Christians authored by the Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen Bishop of Truro in the United Kingdom was recently concluded and submitted to the Government of the United Kingdom. The report studied seven countries – Iraq, Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Syria & Nigeria – as the world capitals for the persecution of Christians.

The report was concluded on July 4, 2019.In its examination of the killings in Nigeria, focused on the killings from Fulani herdsmen along the middle belt regions of the country. It cited the unwarranted killings of unarmed Christians by Fulani herdsmen who are often armed with sophisticated weapons. It observed that the security structure in Nigeria appears reluctant to go after the attackers. The military are more tuned to go after the victims – the report claims.

The report cites that Christians are clearly suffering persecution. The report claims the Buhari administration has done little to stop the tide of killings – instead, the Buhari administration have denied the occurrence of religious killings.

The Buhari administration have since become unsettled by the report and its submittal to the UK parliament. [Buhari’s administration’s response is reproduced below].

 

Click here to view the 176 page report: final-report-and-recommendations

 

Below is exerpt of the findings on Nigeria:

4.b.ii. Nigeria

The “intensification of conflict” in Nigeria in recent years comes at a time when 423

Christians in the country have suffered some of the worst atrocities inflicted on

Churchgoers anywhere in the world. Since 2009, Boko Haram, the Islamist militant

group in “allegiance” with Daesh (ISIS) extremists in Iraq and Syria, has 424

“inflicted mass terror on civilians, killing 20,000 Nigerians, kidnapping thousands

and displacing nearly two million”.425 The kidnapping of “mostly Christian girls”426

from a school in Chibok north-east Nigeria in April 2014 and the forced

“conversions” to Islam of many of the students, demonstrated the anti-Christian 427

agenda of the militants. Boko Haram’s continued detention of teenager Leah

Sharibu , kidnapped in April 2018, showed that the militants were continuing to 428

target Christians. The Catholic Church in north-east Nigeria reported in spring 2017

that Boko Haram violence had resulted in damage to 200 churches and chapels, 35

presbyteries (priests’ houses) and parish centres. At least 1.8 million people in 429

north-east Nigeria’s Borno state had been displaced by March 2017, according to

Church sources. To this extent, Boko Haram delivered on its March 2012 promise 430

of a “war” on Christians in Nigeria, in which a spokesman for the militants

reportedly declared: “We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence

in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won’t be able to

stay.” Hence, by 2017 it was being concluded that “Boko Haram has carried out 431

a genocide against Christians in northern Nigeria”.432

By that time, a new and growing threat to mainly Christian farming communities

had emerged from nomadic Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani carried out attacks

against Christian communities especially in Nigeria’s ‘Middle Belt’, the border

territory between the Hausa-speaking Muslim areas in northern Nigeria and land

further south mainly populated by Christians. Reports also showed mostly

retaliatory attacks against Fulani by “predominantly” Christian farmers, such as

the November 2016 killing of about 50 mainly Fulani pastoralists by ethnic

Bachama local residents in Numan district, Adamawa state. The causes of this 433

inter-communal conflict are complex and “attributed to many factors” . That 434

said whilst the conflict cannot simply be seen in terms of religion, it is equally

simplistic not to see the religious dimension as a significantly exacerbating factor,

and the Fulani attacks have repeatedly demonstrated a clear intent to target

Christians, and potent symbols of Christian identity. This was evidenced, for

example, by the April 2018 murder of two priests and 17 faithful during early

morning Mass at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Mblaom, Benue State, in Nigeria’s

Middle Belt. 435

The threat from Boko Haram and militant Fulani Islamist herdsmen – with evidence

of some counter-attacks from Christians – suggests that the situation for 436

Christians in parts of the country has “deteriorated” , with Nigeria rising through 437

the ranks of countries with the worst record of persecution against Christians.438

Faced with repeated accusations of inaction and even “connivance” in relation 439

to Fulani violence, it remains to be seen if Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected in the

February 2019 Presidential elections , will make good his promise, stated in 440

Easter 2019, to “do all it takes to… confront these security challenges [and] not

allow merchants of death and evil to overwhelm the nation.”441

Case study

Case: The killing of two priests and 17 others during a church service in Mbalom, in

Nigeria’s ‘Middle Belt’ on 24 April 2018

The case is referenced by:

The following are key references for this case. Other references are indicated in

the footnotes:

Joachim Teigen, ‘Nigeria: Church attacked, 2 priests and 16 parishioners dead’,

Vatican News, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2018-04/nigeria-stignatius-church-attacked-dead-mbalom-benue.html, [Accessed 20 April 2019]

‘Priests killed in Nigeria’, Church Times, 27 April 2018, https://

www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/27-april/news/world/priests-killed-innigeria [Accessed 20th April 2019]

‘Eighteen killed in Benue church by suspected herdsmen, TheGuardian, 24 April

2018 https://guardian.ng/news/eighteen-killed-in-benue-church-by-suspectedherdsmen/ [Accessed 20 April 2019]

`Nigerian herdsmen kill 19 in Catholic church attack’, The Catholic World Report,

26 April 2018, https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/04/26/nigerianherdsmen-kill-19-in-catholic-church-attack/

Eighteen killed in Benue church by suspected herdsmen, TheGuardian, 24 April

2018 https://guardian.ng/news/eighteen-killed-in-benue-church-by-suspectedherdsmen/ [Accessed 20 April 2019]

Adrian Blomfield, ‘The bloody cattle conflict pushing Nigeria to the edge of civil

war’, The Telegraph, 17 April 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/

2018/06/17/battle-scarce-resources-muslim-cattle-herders-christian-farmers/

[Accessed 20 April 2019]

Herdsmen want to eradicate Christians’, New Telegraph (Benue State, Nigeria), 3

June 2018 https://www.newtelegraphng.com/2018/06/herdsmen-want-toeradicate-christians/ [Accessed 20 April 2019]

Bukola Adebayo, ‘Nigeria church attack leaves 19 dead, including two priests’,

CNN, 25th April 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/24/africa/nigeria-churchattack/index.html [Accessed 20 April 2019]

Hembadoon Orsar, ‘Nigeria: Benue Church Attack – the Untold Story of Ukpo, Ayar

Mbalom’, AllAfrica, 22 June 2018, https://allafrica.com/stories/

201806220622.html

O Flaherty, M, Pontifex J, ‘Nigeria: Bishops – President should resign for inaction

over ‘killing fields and mass graveyard’’, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) News, 30

April 2018, https://acnuk.org/news/bishops-president-should-resign-for-inactionover-nigerias-killing-fields-and-mass-graveyard/ [Accessed 20th April 2019]

Nigeria: Christianity – Foreign and Commonwealth Office written question –

answered on 8 May 2018’ https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?

id=2018-04-26.HL7306. [Accessed 20 April 2019]

‘Sixteen People Killed in Nigerian Church Attack: Police’, U.S. News, 24 April 2018,

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-04-24/sixteen-people-killedin-nigerian-church-attack-police [Accessed 20 April 2019]

Short summary

Two priests, Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha, and 17 others were killed

on 24 April 2018 when “suspected” Islamist militant Fulani herdsmen opened fire 442

as a 5.30am Mass got underway at St Ignatius’ Church, Mbalom in Nigeria’s ‘Middle

Belt’. At least 50 homes and “farm”443 buildings in the village were “set on fire”444

before the attackers fled.

Case report in full

At 5.30am on Tuesday, 24 April 2018 “around 30 attackers” entered St 445 446

Ignatius’ Catholic Church in Ukpor-Mbalom, in Gwer East Local Government Area of

Benue State, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. The attackers opened fire and 19 people

were killed including two priests, Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha . 447

The rest were “worshippers” , mostly “parishioners” . “Several others also 448 449

sustained bullet wounds.”450

The attack took place as early morning Mass was getting underway, a service which

was to conclude with “a burial ceremony” . A local source told The Nigerian 451

Vanguard newspaper: “The service had barely started and worshippers were still

coming for the Mass after which a burial ceremony would take place, when sounds

of rapid gunshots rent the air.”452

Oryiman Akule, aged nine, an altar server at the service and witness to the

atrocity, said: “As soon as the priest started the Mass, he sighted some people with

guns running towards the church and alerted people but, almost at the same time,

they began to shoot… We ran and hid in one building.” Another survivor stated: 453

“People started scampering and wailing” but they were defenceless as “the 454

perpetrators started shooting against the congregation.” Peter Lorver, whose 455

stepmother was at the Mass and who lost her life in the attack, said: “The

herdsmen came and opened fire on the church while morning Mass was going on.

After they attacked and killed those in the church, they left and started shooting

sporadically, killing residents around the area.”456

“After the attack on the church, the herdsmen proceeded to shoot residents in the

area, and set fire to 50 homes.” Some reports give a higher figure of “60 457

houses”458 attacked and “razed… in an attempt to sack the entire community…”459

Also targeted were “farmland, food barns” with the attackers “carting away what

the people had in their barns.” The attackers then “fled from the scene.” The 460

identity of the attackers was not clear. Nobody claimed responsibility for the

atrocity although, from the outset, police “suspected” militant Islamist Fulani 461

nomadic herdsmen, a view shared by state officials as well as Christian leaders.

People in the area had been warning of the threat of attack by the Fulani for

several weeks. On 3 January 2018 , more than three months before the attack, 462

Father Gor, the parish priest, who would become a victim of the atrocity, “had put

a message on Facebook before the attack: ‘Living in fear. The Fulani herdsmen are

still around us in Mbalom. They refuse to go. They still go grazing around us.’”

Context of the attacks

The attack at St Ignatius’ Church, Mbalom fitted a pattern of earlier attacks in the

region, known to have been carried out by Fulani. On 19 April 2018, less than a

week before the Mbalom attack, James Tsave, a resident in the area, reported that

“Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Benue State’s Anyiin village killed 25 Christians… The

assailants set fire to 30 houses, destroying them.” The media quoted Mr Tsave

saying: “Twenty-five Christians have been killed, and those of us who survived have

been forced to flee our village.” On 10 April 2018, two weeks before the attack, 463

in Gbeji village, in another part of Benue State, Fulani killed about 30 Christians. A

resident stated that a Catholic church building was attacked and afterwards houses

were set on fire. 464

“Herdsmen attacks in the first three weeks of April [2018] are believed to have

caused the deaths of more than 250 Christians in Benue State, according to local

media reports.” “Some 73 people were killed in central states – known as the 465

‘Middle Belt’– in the first few days of 2018, prompting a high-profile mass burial in

Benue State’s capital, Makurdi.”466

Fulani attacks have been attributed to the desperate search for grazing pastures

for their cattle at a time of increasing “desertification” arising from climate

change. Father Patrick Alumuku, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese

of Abuja, told Vatican News: “‘Groups of nomadic shepherds are forced to move

south because of desertification, resulting in conflicts over lands and resources in

this fertile region’”.467

The superiority of the weapons used by the Fulani has prompted commentators to

suggest that the herdsmen are funded and trained by others. Bishop Wilfred Chikpa

Anagbe said the herdsmen were “being armed with ‘sophisticated weapons… the

Fulani tribesmen for the most part live in the forest and cannot afford the luxury

of such sophisticated weapons – so who is funding them?’”468

Analysis specifically relating to the attack at St Ignatius’ Church, Mbalom, pointed

to an unambiguous religious motivation. Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor,

said: “The reverend fathers [Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha] were not farmers. They

were not in the farm. The church where they were holding the Mass had no grass.

The armed herdsmen have moved the narrative of the current crisis from search

for grass to other obvious motives.”469

Aftermath of the attack

In the weeks that followed, attacks similar to that at St Ignatius’ Church, Mbalom,

re-inforced the view of Church leaders that religious hatred and territorial

expansion were central motives for the attacks. News reports highlighted that

“The attack took place near… where the Muslim north [of Nigeria] meets the

southern Christian area.” Speaking on Wednesday, 30 May 2018, Bishop Wilfred 470

Chikpa Anagbe of Makurdi “pointed out that 11 parishes in his diocese had been

attacked.” Referring to the killings at St Ignatius’ Church and elsewhere, Bishop 471

63

Anagbe said: “Up to 100 Christians have died this year in the hands of nomadic

herdsmen… There is a clear agenda – a plan – to Islamise all of the areas that are

currently predominantly Christian in the so-called Middle Belt of Nigeria.” He 472

also said: “The Fulanis’ agenda was the same as that of Boko Haram. Both groups

are united in the same intention to Islamise the entire region.”473

In the UK, The Telegraph’s Africa correspondent Adrian Blomfield stated: “The

attack [on St Ignatius’ Church on 24 April 2018] has had a powerful effect on

Nigeria’s Christians, persuading many, justifiably or otherwise, that the Fulanis’

real intent is dispossession, territorial acquisition and the expansion of Islam – all

to be achieved by the ethnic cleansing of Christians.”474

Reports indicated that Christians had carried out violence against the Fulani, while

acknowledging that the attacks by Fulani were far greater both in number and

severity. “Herdsmen involved in the communal violence are mainly Muslims from

the Fulani ethnic group, while members of the settled farming communities are

mostly Christian. Attacks have been carried out by both sides.” 475

Political reaction to the attack

The Government of Nigeria immediately responded to the attack by publicly

acknowledging its significance. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in

the US in the days following the attack, tweeted : “Violating a place of worship, 476

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.” 477

Nonetheless church leaders accused the government of inaction. “In the wake of

the attack” at St Ignatius’ Church, Mbalom, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of 478

Nigeria issued a statement “calling on President [Buhari] to ‘consider stepping

aside’ and accusing the government of security failures: ‘How can the federal

government stand back while its security agencies deliberately turn a blind eye to

the cries and wails of helpless and armless citizens who remain sitting ducks in

their homes, farms, highway and now, even in their sacred places of worship?’”479

Local leaders in Nigeria called for police and other security forces to take action.

“Trever Akase, a spokesman for the Benue governor, said: ‘The armed herdsmen

also burnt numerous houses, shops and other property in the area. This mindless

attack was unprovoked, and we urge security agencies to arrest the herdsmen

behind the killings for prosecution.’”480

US politicians and government called for the Government of Nigeria to act quickly

to stem the crisis of repeated Fulani attacks. US Congressman Chris Smith,

chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, said: “[The] killing of priests and

parishioners… of St Ignatius’ Catholic Church in the Makurdi Diocese signals that

the religious violence is escalating. It’s imperative that Nigerian authorities punish

those who are culpable, lest violence worsen…”481

On 30 April 2018, US President Donald Trump said in front of President Muhammadu

Buhari of Nigeria at a press conference outside the White House, Washington DC:

“We are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria including the burning of

churches and the killing and persecution of Christians.” 482

64

Foreign Office Minister and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of

Religion or Belief, Lord Ahmad, when answering a Parliamentary Question on this

subject, has said: “We condemn the recent attack in Mbalom, Benue State, which

included an attack on a church and up to fifty houses. Two priests were among at

least 18 people reportedly killed. We are appalled by the tragic loss of life”483

Case Review and Analysis

In spite of uncertainly over the identity of the attackers, the evidence suggests a

religious motive lay, at least in part, behind the 24 April 2018 killing of priests and

worshippers attending an early morning church service at St Ignatius’ Church,

Mbalom, in Nigeria’s ‘Middle Belt’. Insofar as the massacre fitted with a general

pattern of attacks by militant Fulani nomadic herdsmen, the killings appeared to

point out the error of an analysis, which downplayed religious motives in exclusive

favour of issues including climate change, the search for cattle-grazing pastures

and other economic factors. In the US, response to the St Ignatius’ Church killings

from President Donald Trump and other political leaders both recognised the

religious dimension to the violence and renewed calls for the Nigerian government

to do more to bring the perpetrators to justice. A similar approach is evident in the

response made by the UK government.

Conclusions

Nigeria is one of a number of West African countries straddling the sub-Saharan

transition zone between majority-Muslim regions in the north and majorityChristian regions in the south. Since independence there has been a conscious

effort to ensure that both communities are fairly represented at all levels in the

structures of power in civil and military life. But in more recent years this balance

appears to have been disturbed. In the northern and central regions of the country

attacks on and abductions of unarmed civilians by armed groups have become

increasingly frequent. The case study above gives full details of one such attack in

the so-called Middle Belt, and cross-references others that demonstrate a

consistent pattern.

Members of the Independent Review Team visited Nigeria in March. They met with

church leaders, representatives of international civil society, FoRB NGO

representatives, witnesses to persecution and attacks in the northern and central

regions and staff at the British High Commission in Abuja. This included a

roundtable discussion hosted by the British High Commission specifically on the

farmer/herder clashes in the Middle Belt. There was a consensus in condemnation

of the activities of Boko Haram and associated groups in the northern regions as

religiously motivated, the widely publicised abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls

being but one example of these activities. But when it came to the numerous

attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farming communities in what is known as the Middle

Belt, where Christian and Muslim communities are intermixed, there was a

divergence of view.

Representatives of some international organisations and FCO staff maintained that

these attacks were primarily caused by factors such as a changing environment and

the clash of livelihoods This would reflect the position taken in an April 2019 FCO

65

research analysts’ paper cautioning against seeing the attacks as being sparked by

a Fulani Islamisation agenda (this was despite assurances from senior FCO

researchers in London that their own analysis, supplied to Post, always took the

religious dimension into account). However church leaders and witnesses from the

region maintained that the facts pointed to a further ethno-religious dynamic as a

significant exacerbating factor. It was pointed out that the effects of climate

change are more severe in neighbouring Niger to the north, but farmer-herder

disputes there do not lead to mass loss of life as Government security forces are

quick to diffuse tensions and initiate traditional dispute-resolution procedures.

Additionally there are normally only primitive weapons available to both sides. By

contrast in Nigeria the herdsmen side is often armed with sophisticated assault

rifles, the Government security forces seem to steer clear of getting involved; and

traditional dispute resolution procedures cannot operate when the situation has

already been significantly enflamed with one party to the dispute suffering

disproportionately. Add to this that Christian villages are predominantly targeted

and that attacks often start by attacking the priest and the church and the

religious dimension of the conflict becomes ever more evident. Specialist

witnesses interviewed in London also reported observing spikes in geo-located

jihadi social media traffic both before and after such raids.

Whatever the motivation behind these attacks, however, it is striking that nobody

is being brought to justice for these crimes. Where there is such impunity the

incentive is clearly given for the attacks to continue and the affected communities

are denied protection. In just four months in early 2018 there were at least 106

such attacks and the resulting death toll was 1,061 Christian villagers killed, over

the same period there were seven attacks on Fulani herdsmen, two of them in the

south of the country . Since 2015 more deaths have resulted from these violent 484

attacks than those caused by Boko Haram further north. By June 2018 11,833 485

displaced persons from these raids were living in 17 camps and 54 communities in

Plateau state alone had been occupied and renamed by the raiders. On 3 July 486

2018 the Nigerian House of Representatives declared the killings in Plateau State

to be a genocide. Around the same time British Government Ministers were 487

insisting in parliament that these killings had little to do with religious

extremism.488

Victim witnesses from Plateau state reported that they received regular visits from

staff at the US mission in Abuja, but said that the British hardly ever visited

(although a forthcoming visit to Jos was promised at the roundtable meeting).

Post have since clarified that they had visited Plateau a number of times during

the past year to visit other groups, but had not had the opportunity to meet

affected communities. Nonetheless Independent Review Team members were

assured that contact is good between the British High Commission and the Nigerian

Federal Government at the highest levels and that security and humanitarian

assistance has been offered. But until at least some of the perpetrators of violence

in the Middle Belt are brought to justice; the security forces intervene effectively

on the side of those being attacked; and solutions are formulated which take the

ethno-religious dimension seriously, victims and survivors will remain unconvinced

that diplomatic efforts to date have been as effective as they might otherwise

have been.

6

Buhari’s reponse

 

The Presidency welcomes the recent report to the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office – specifically the British Government’s new focus on herder-farmer clashes.  Engagement with various stakeholders is key to breeding the dialogue and – most importantly – trust to resolve this age-old conflict.

As the report sets out, there are many causes to this conflict, from competition over land to climate change. The National Livestock Transformation Plan sets out to deal with these by preventing open grazing of cattle and – consequently – the destruction of crops.

Enclosed ranching is a core component of the programme. For farmers, this guarantees their yield and livelihoods. For herders, all livestock produce more meat and milk in a ranch rather than being always on the move.

These plans do not come at one or another’s expense. Instead, they shall make both farmers and herders richer. We must learn to live together because there isn’t another way. Our diversity should never be a cause for conflict, but a source of strength from which the nation can draw.

The report also highlighted the threat from Boko Haram in their mission to establish an “Islamic state” in place of the secular state. Where the group once administered territory, they now hold on to none. In those fringe areas and spaces where they still pose a threat, they are being chased, their bases smashed. In this second term, we shall focus on extinguishing the final remnants of the group.

As President Buhari reasserted at Easter: “[I will] do all it takes to… confront these security challenges [and] not allow merchants of death and evil to overwhelm the nation.”

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