Five Christians were killed and five others are missing after attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria's Plateau and Benue states in the past two weeks.
Two members of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) were killed on Sunday (Nov. 12) in Plateau state's Wereng village, Riyom Local Government Area (LGA), as they were returning to their village at about 9:30 p.m., area resident Gyang Dahoro, a COCIN elder, told Morning Star News.
Christopher Musa Chong, 28, and Bulus Dantoro, 35, were ambushed and shot death, and their corpses cut with machetes, according to Dahoro.
"The two did not return to the village on Sunday evening," Dahoro said. "A search was organized, and their corpses were found in bushes the following morning with bullet wounds and machete cuts."
The Rev. Dacholom Datiri, president of the COCIN, said in a text message to Morning Star News that the church keeps losing its members as Muslim herdsmen have continued to ravage the countryside in a series of armed attacks.
"These armed Fulani herdsmen have continued with their attacks, and the church is at the receiving end," Datiri said. "We have lost our members to these unprovoked attacks. We are on our knees praying for God's mercy."
Police in Plateau state reported recovering items belonging to the herdsmen at the scene of the attack. Plateau State Command spokesman Matthias Terna confirmed in a press statement the two Christians were ambushed and killed by the herdsmen.
"The dead bodies were recovered on the scene at about 8:15 in the morning by miners who were on their way to mining camp," Terna said. "The police recovered two sticks belonging to the gunmen, and a motorcycle belonging to the deceased persons in the scene."
Lamenting incessant killings of Christians in the state by the herdsmen using guerrilla tactics, a member of Nigeria's parliament, the National Assembly, demanded the government declare the herdsmen as terrorists. Istifanus Gyang said in a press statement that the time has come for herdsmen to be classified as terrorists.
"The truth is that there is a quest by the herdsmen to forcefully acquire land and territory for occupation," Gyang said. "Under this unfortunate development, the Nigerian state and government, which have the constitutional responsibility of protecting citizens from aggression, have left the victims at the mercy of the marauding herdsmen. These attacks have to be profiled and classified as acts of insurgency and treated with the same response as Boko Haram has been handled."
Benue State Killings
In Benue state, three Christians were killed and five others abducted by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, sources said.
One of the Christians, Saater Kwaghdom, was killed in an attack in Gaambe-tiv village, Logo LGA, on Nov. 2 in which the herdsmen took away the five Christians, Joseph Anawa of Makurdi told Morning Star News.
Another Christian, Apesuu Uhula, was killed in Isho village, Guma LGA, on Tuesday (Nov. 13), and the same day herdsmen killed another Christian, Ortse Kwaghdoo, in Azdege village, Logo LGA, according to Anawa.
All three slain Christians were members of the Universal Reformed Christian Church, in Nigeria known as the NKST (Nongo U KristuU I Ser Sha Tar), he said.
Among those kidnapped, also NKST members, were Hingir Akaa Azemgbe, Doosul Nambo, and Ladi Mhbahme, he said.
Moses Yamu, spokesman for the Benue State Command, said in a press statement that some herdsmen who carried out the attacks have been arrested.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria's population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.
Benue state is majority-Christian, and a report released this month describes attacks there as a "Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen invasion of Benue."
"Nigeria: Benue State Under the Shadow of Herdsmen Terrorism," commissioned by the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors International and Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says ethnic, socio-economic, environmental and political factors play some part in attacks, but that policy makers have diminished the underlying jihadist motives.
The ideology of the Hausa-Fulani Muslim invasion of Benue is based on the slogan, "Everything belongs to Allah. Every piece of land belongs to Allah and not you; it is not for you infidels but for Allah," the report notes.
"Thus, with climate change, competition over limited resources and environmental threat to the ways of life of the herdsmen, the use of terror and its religious justification has been intensified, particularly in Benue," the report states. "Herdsmen use terror tactics to conduct jihad, displacing local communities from their land to make room for their herds, to occupy those lands and to spread Islam."
Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen are generally misperceived as people who are only in search of a better environment for caring for their sheep, the report states.
"They are mostly considered as people whose life, survival and tradition is embedded in the value attached to the herds, and the capacity they retain to protect their way of life," it states. "Yet, historically, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that herdsmen in Africa have always played an important role in Islamic jihad. Their actions clearly demonstrate that their use of terror is premeditated; it is ideologically driven and sometimes politically motivated depending on the place, time and socio-political context."
The report also asserts that the government is complicit in the violence by failing to stop attacks or prosecute assailants.
Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.