How Nigeria’s cattle war is fuelling religious tension- BBC

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A long-running conflict between cattle herders and farmers in central Nigeria is increasingly assuming a religious dimension, writes the BBC’s Mayeni Jones after visiting Benue state.

Sebastian Nyamgba is a tall, wiry farmer with sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes.

He guides me to a small bungalow adjacent to the local church, St Ignatus. It was the home of local priest Father Joseph Gor.

“This is his blood,” he says, as he points to faint pink splatters on the wall of the porch of the house.

“This is where he was killed. They shot him as he was getting on this motorbike to escape and his blood sprayed on the wall.”

Father Gor was killed in the compound of his Catholic church, in the small village of Mbalom, about an hour’s drive south from the capital of Benue state, Makurdi.
Father Gor was a charismatic young preacher, who was popular with the local community. He had bought a TV and satellite dish and invited the locals to watch football games.

“He used to farm with us,” says Mr Nyamgba, who was one of his parishioners.

On the morning of 24 April, Father Gor was killed with another priest, Father Felix Tyolaha, who had previously survived an attack by alleged herders in Benue’s Guma region.

‘Communion wine stolen’
The two priests were discussing their plans for the morning mass when gunmen emerged out of a nearby disused building and began shooting.

Father Gor was killed first, then Father Tyolaha, as well as 15 of their parishioners.

The killings sent ripples through the country. Within hours President Muhammadu Buhari called the attack “vile and satanic”, adding that it was an attempt to stoke religious conflict between Christians and Muslims.

The Christian Association of Nigeria called for a national day of protest against the killings. The Muslim Rights Concern group condemned the attack, describing it as “wicked, repulsive and barbaric”.

And a week later, as President Buhari was received at the White House, US President Donald Trump lamented the killing of Christians in Nigeria, a remark many saw as a reference to the incident.

Back in Mbalom, Mr Nyamgba is adamant that the killers were herders from the Fulani ethnic group. He says he heard them speak Fulani as a he ran away. Beyond their ethnicity, he was less able to tell me why he thought they were herders.

Herders in the region tend to be Fulanis, who are predominately Muslim, but there was no solid evidence that the attack was carried out by them.

The assailants took money, valuables and communion wine. They burnt a couple of shops but left most of the village untouched, suggesting the attackers did not aim to take over land and deter villagers from coming back. They also did not return with cattle as might have been expected.

Nigeria is holding presidential and parliamentary elections next year, and the conflict is becoming increasingly politicised.

President Buhari is Fulani himself and locals in Benue claim neither he nor the armed forces are being tough enough on the herders.

At the same time, herders feel persecuted but are still determined to access pasture for their cattle.

The government and security forces have not been able to bring the security threat under control.

But the government needs to stem the violence in the central states to stop it exploding into an unmanageable conflict, especially as it still battling militant Islamists group Boko Haram in the north-east.

Read More here at BBC

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