A new report from the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust estimates that more than 1,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria this year alone.
HART, a U.K.-based nonprofit that tracks persecution around the world, is led by cross-bench member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Caroline Cox. Cox says that Fulani herdsmen are the major perpetrators in the killing of Christians in Nigeria, although terrorist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for several attacks against Christians in Borno State.
“Islamist Fulani militia continue to engage in an aggressive and strategic land grabbing policy in Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Southern Kaduna and parts of Bauchi state,” the report reads. “They attack rural villages, force villagers off their lands and settle in their place—a strategy that is epitomized by the phrase: ‘your land or your blood.’”
Fulani herdsmen are a predominantly Muslim nomadic people group of about 20 million across West and Central Africa. While tensions between the Fulani and Nigerian farming communities have existed for centuries, The Institute for Economics & Peace attributes the more recent outbursts of violence to increases in population, lack of fertile land and the distribution of arms throughout Nigeria.
In the Institute’s annual Global Terrorism Index, it was reported that deaths attributed to Fulani extremists in 2018 were estimated to be six times greater than the number committed by Boko Haram.
HART’s report tells a similar story. In one personal testimony included in the report, a Nigerian pastor says that attacks by Fulani herdsmen are becoming an almost daily occurrence.
“Every day we carry new corpses to the cemetery,” he says. “They kill farmers. They destroy our homes and churches. They kidnap and rape women.”
Cox affirms this scenario. “I have visited many of the affected areas and seen the tragedies of death and destruction. In every village, the message from local people is the same: ‘Please, please help us! The Fulani are coming. We are not safe in our own homes.’”
HART estimates that more than 6,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed since 2015 and as many as 12,000 displaced from their villages.
In July, the Jubilee Campaign, an international human rights nongovernmental organization, informed the International Criminal Court that the “standard of genocide has now been reached in Nigeria.”
Although not all those killed by Fulani are Christians, HART stresses that violence against predominantly Christian communities suggests that religion and ideology play a key part.
“[The Fulani herdsmen] seek to replace diversity and difference with Islamist ideology, which is imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply,” Cox told the Christian Institute.
“Something has to change—urgently,” the report warns. “The longer we tolerate these massacres, the more we embolden the perpetrators. We give them a ‘green light’ to carry on killing.”