The confirmation by the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Benue State, that two of its priests and 17 worshippers were massacred early on Tuesday morning shocked Nigeria and added another hue to the incessant killings perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen in the last few years. Catholic Director of Communications, Reverend Father Moses Iorapuu, stated that Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha were killed in the deadly attack by herdsmen at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor-Mbalom. The priests were officiating an early morning mass prior to a funeral service. The Acting Governor of Benue State, Mr. Benson Abounu, noted that the state is so sad because of the killings.
President Muhammadu Buhari lamented that “this latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.” The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, spoke in similar vein: “it is evident that the devil’s bigger agenda is to stoke up a religious conflict in Nigeria that will make it impossible for anyone to preach the gospel or even for Muslims to worship in their mosques. A few days ago in Bama, a mosque was burnt and many people died…”
The Sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual head of the Muslim faithful, Dr. Sa’ad Abubakar III, then issued a two-month ultimatum to the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) to put an end to the killings and to purge the criminals in its midst.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has called on all churches in the country to devote time on Sunday, April 29, 2018 to organise peaceful protests to express the church’s disgust over the inability of government to arrest the increasing orgy of killings of innocent Christians across the country.
The reactions to the attack have been right but similar reactions never yielded any positive change in the past. The issue has tended to get worse rather than go away. The only reaction that is new is the Sultan’s order to Myetti Allah.
The Federal Government has demonstrated unwillingness to confront the issue of the killings by Fulani herdsmen. It has substituted speculation for factual information. At first, it said the killers were not Nigerians. Later, the government said the depredations were a result of the protocol on free movement in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Yet, the protocol demands that each country must control the movement within its borders. Nigerians, for decades, have known herdsmen to go about their business with the shepherd’s staff.
Suddenly, they are now armed with automatic weapons. The government has been unable to establish the source of their AK-47 rifles. After thousands of murders, the government has been unable to arrest the killers, let alone prosecute them. Because the government has been unable to establish the true identity of these killers, Nigerians are unsure whether they are herdsmen or jihadists, as is apparent from the statement of the Catholic Diocese. It is, therefore, difficult to challenge the Christian interpretation of the incident. The Myetti Allah had the effrontery to publicly denounce the anti-grazing law of Benue State, and ever since has kept up the campaign against the law.
Nigerians no longer believe the government on the issue of herdsmen’s killings. The herdsmen have become the gravest threat to Nigeria’s peace and security. The situation is now such that resort to self-help is becoming louder and louder. It is a reflection of government’s failure in its primary duty and no pious statement can alter that reality.