Felipe D’Avillez and John Pontifex
(ZENIT News / Makurdi, 04.11.2023).- MORE than 35 people in Nigeria’s Middle Belt died on Good Friday when gunmen opened fire at a camp for internally displaced people.
In a message sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Remigius Ihyula from Makurdi diocese said: “Fulani [herdsmen] came to an IDP camp to kill these innocent souls.”
Reports from the region, in Benue State, stated that the suspected herdsmen “invaded” the compound of a primary school, where the IDPs were camping, and began shooting indiscriminately, leaving nearly 40 people seriously injured. Of those killed, local reports claimed the vast majority were women.
Father Ihyula said: “The [place] is well known and used as a haven for people from neighbouring settlements such as Udei, who, from time to time, come to the school to sleep [or] stay due to fear and insecurity in their villages.
“Beside the school is the house of Zaki Bernard Shawa, who also lost two children in the attack, while in front of the school is the Makurdi-Lafia highway with a police checkpoint. Mr Shawa, district head of Nyiev, the area where the attack took place, was quoted in local reports saying: “Some of [those who were killed] were shot right in their rooms, while they were sleeping, and others, including two of my children, were caught running and killed.”
According to Father Ihyula, the attackers destroyed property including vehicles.
Makurdi diocese alone has 2 million IDPs – most of them Christian – spread across seven camps.
Father Ihyula told ACN that most of the IDPs used to be self-sufficient but now rely entirely on hand-outs. The camps lack basic equipment, such as beds, with the vast majority of IDPs having to sleep on the floor.
There is longstanding animosity between nomadic herdsmen and farmers but the conflict has beenmade worse by automatic weapons from Libya flooding the black market.
The situation has been aggravated by religious differences, as most Fulani are herdsmen and the ajority of farmers in the region are Christian.
There is a fear that the Fulani violence is being stoked by those who want to eliminate Christians from the region.
Nigeria is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need which has provided pastoral and emergency support, focusing on the Middle Belt and elsewhere in the north of the country.