According to Open Doors, Nigeria is the 12th worst country in the world for persecution of Christians. Those responsible are Islamists, who are concentrated almost entirely in the north. In large areas the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri groups are in the majority and Christians often face persecution. There are some areas of the north – states such as Taraba, Benue, Plateau and parts of Kaduna – where Christians are in the majority; but the presence of Hausas and Fulanis has increased over the years. Violent conflict has been the result.
Western observers tend to see the conflict in economic, not religious terms. To them, the movement of Fulanis into predominantly Christian farming areas is due to the need for grazing land. Yet northern Christians are inclined to see this as part of a longer story of religious conflict: they do not forget the Fulani jihad of the 19th century and the misery it brought to areas which were then “pagan”.
Christians also put little faith in the mainstream Western media. The mass media rightly deplored the massacre of 50 Muslims in New Zealand, but it has largely ignored the fact that in the past two months more than 100 Christians have been butchered by armed Fulani gangs in Kaduna state alone.
Many Nigerian Christians see it as part of a grand plot to Islamise the country. The newly re-elected President, Muhammadu Buhari, has naturally dismissed this idea. And it is important to remember that not only Christian areas of the north have suffered. Fulani bandits, perhaps entering Nigeria from neighbouring countries, have also carried out attacks in the densely Muslim Sokoto and Zamfara states in the north-west.
Kaduna State may possibly have a majority of Muslims, but Christians predominate in the southern part of the state. The Catholic Church is strong there, and continues to attract a large number of vocations. Yet Christians are not united. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) tries to represent both Catholics and Protestants, but it does not enjoy universal support.
A major flashpoint in Kaduna state is Kajuru, a local government area (LGA) south-east of Kaduna metropolis. On February 10 at least 10 Christians were killed in Maro ward of the LGA. Five days later, the Kaduna State Governor, Ahmad El-Rufai, a Muslim, condemned the killing of 66 people in Kajuru. He explicitly referred to Fulanis killed by Christians, but his figures were challenged, even by the state’s police commissioner, as well as by CAN. Since then Fulani gangs have struck several times, especially against Kajuru villages. Thus 32 more people died in Maro on February 26; 52 were killed at two villages in the same ward on March 10; the following week, nine died and 30 houses were destroyed in Sanga LGA.
In every state in Nigeria there are “traditional rulers” who embody the customs and traditions of their respective tribes. Last October the chief of the Adara kingdom in Kajuru, a Catholic, was abducted and killed by Fulanis. His wife escaped to tell the tale. Then, at the end of the year, the Kaduna State Governor created a new emirate within Kajuru to represent the Fulanis there. The move was naturally seen by Christians as provocative.
The world’s attention has been focused chiefly on the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, which has caused havoc chiefly in the far north-east. But Boko Haram is not much of a general threat now to the country. Moreover, it targets moderate Muslims as well as Christians.
In contrast, the herdsmen-farmers conflict, through its correlation with Muslim-Christian tensions, threatens Nigeria’s unity. And there is no end in sight. Christians in Nigeria are praying that the outside world will take note, demonstrate concern and promote change.