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Nigerian Archbishop blames state forces for making religious tensions worse

Sun 21 Jul 2019
By Cara Bentley

A senior clergyman in Nigeria says bias by security forces has heightened ethnic tensions and inflamed the Fulani crisis.

The Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: "Biased and prejudiced official security reports heighten tension when they blame the victims instead of the aggressors because of the Nigerian 'factor' of tribal or religious affiliation. This sadly keeps the fire of the crisis raging.

"Generally, it is when the militant herdsmen vanish after their deadly attacks that the poor villagers try to react to protect or defend themselves."

 

Muslim Fulani herdsman and Christian Jukun Kona farmers in Taraba State have clashed for years but violence has become more frequent and tensions worse this year. 

According to the prelate, around May and June this year 65 people were killed, 9,000 people displaced and 15 churches, two primary schools and a health centre destroyed during Fulani attacks on 18 predominantly Christian villages.

Kona assaults on members of the Fulani ethnic group also caused damage, including the torching of two mosques. More than 23 Fulani were killed.

Archbishop Kaigama said: "Three persons were killed the morning of my visit of 10th July.

"The violence went on unchecked for a protracted period and the population of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) began to swell because of the increasing attacks of the gunmen."

The archbishop, himself a member of the Kona minority, described contacting senior officials to seek protection for the farming communities under attack, including the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of operations, Faleye Olaleye.

He recalled: "When I called the DCP and asked how the situation was, his immediate remark was, 'Your people like fighting'.

"I asked him who my people were since we are all Nigerians? I explained to him how many people were complaining that since the start of the crisis, no security personnel was seen in Kona even when threats to invade Kona were becoming obvious by the day."

Church contacts in Kona told the archbishop that since the crisis began a week earlier, there had been no sign of any security presence.

"The priest in charge of Kona parish and some elders with whom I was in touch later confirmed the presence of the police that night."

On 16th June, security forces arrested some young people from the Kona community. The archbishop said: "[The youths] claimed that they were shot at and arrested for rising in defence of their community against the marauding herdsmen."

He added: "There should be a deliberate strategy by political and security authorities to protect minority groups in Nigeria."

 

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