Nigerian shepherds kill 33, burn 4 churches days after kidnapping schoolchildren
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) – Barely a week after nearly 140 students were kidnapped from a Baptist boarding school in Kaduna state, northwest Nigeria, another terrorist attack in the region left at least 33 dead, four churches and hundreds of houses burned down, according to Luka Binniyat, spokesperson for the civil society organization Southern Kaduna People’s Union.
The aggressors have been described as Fulani herders, nomadic cattle herders whose livelihoods have been threatened in recent years as drought has dried up their usual grazing areas. Since 2016, 108 farming communities in southern Kaduna have been displaced as part of land grabbing campaigns allegedly by Fulani looters.
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In the most recent attack, the assailants besieged the area for six days, storming homes and looting food and valuables before setting houses ablaze, local sources said, as well as Roman Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical Christian churches.
“I am angry. I am worried. Someone is sleeping in their work while thousands of innocent people are being slaughtered,” said Reverend John Joseph Hayab, president of the Kaduna branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria. what is more worrying is that those who carry out the attacks are not being arrested.
The 33 dead were members of the Aytap ethnic group in a locally ruled area called Zangon Kataf.
Of Kaduna’s 6.1 million people, around 60% are Hausa-Fulani Muslim herders, mostly living in the northern part of the state. The remaining 40% are predominantly Christian farmers. In 2000, state authorities introduced Sharia law, causing tensions between the two groups. The change contradicted the country’s 1999 national constitution, which declared Nigeria a secular state.
Christians accuse Muslim shepherds of burning farmland, while shepherds accuse Christian farmers of killing their cattle.
As inter-group violence escalated, Christian leaders complained that worshipers were paying the price for the shepherds’ dislocation, churches being burned and pastors and ordinary Christians killed or kidnapped for ransom. They reject experts’ conclusions that the conflict is over land use, saying shepherds are targeting Christians for their faith.
“It’s religious persecution. We have to call it that. I have 1,000 reasons to believe it, ”said Hayab.
On July 5, terrorists abducted students from Bethel Baptist Church high school on the outskirts of the state capital after overpowering security guards. Dozens of students escaped, but 125 are still in captivity.
“These are innocent children of Nigerians who have left their parents’ confines in search of an education and a better future,” Reverend Samson Ayokunle, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said in a statement. .
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Prior to the latest kidnapping, at least 950 children had been abducted from their schools by gunmen since December, according to a July 7 report from UNICEF. In the six weeks to the end of May alone, more than 500 people have been abducted in separate incidents in central and northwestern Nigeria. The children were never found. Likewise, 100 of the 276 predominantly Christian girls abducted from a school in the town of Chibok in Borno state in 2014 were never found.
In June, President Buhari admitted that he had failed to quell attacks by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group in northern Nigeria, which began its insurgency in 2009. Christian leaders now say they want to let him act.
“We say to him: we have heard your many speeches, but now we want to act. Summon your power as head of state and commander-in-chief and stop these criminals. We know they can be defeated, ”said Hayab.