The Forgotten Terrorists: Fulani Militants’ First Six Months in 2017

By Nathan Johnson

07/31/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Peace Francis was a young Christian girl from Southern Kaduna, Nigeria, who, in her short 12 years of life, saw more violence than most Westerners could ever imagine. Early in the morning of February 20, 2017, Fulani militants raided the villages of Ashim, Mifi, Zilang and Bakin Kogi in Attakar District. Peace and her family woke to the sounds of gunfire and flames licking many of the houses in the village. As Peace and her family hid in the fields around the village, the militants decided to set fire to the grass.

The flames quickly spread and Peace sustained burns over 20% of her body. She was admitted to the hospital shortly thereafter. She suffered through medical procedures and her body tried to heal itself, but sadly, she lost her fight for life on June 30, 2017 after four months in the hospital. Along with Peace, this coordinated and pre-meditated attack claimed the lives of 26 others, including her father. Peace’s younger sister is still fighting for her life in the hospital, but even if she recovers, it will be with no family left and no home with which to return.

This sad scene and others like it have been repeated many times across Nigeria’s Middle Belt in the past few years. In 2014, Fulani militant violence was so intense that the Global Terrorism Index listed them as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. Only the fearsome trio of Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Shabaab were judged to be deadlier. Despite being ranked so high by the Global Terrorism Index, this issue has gained little attention from the Nigerian government, national media, and international community.

The government and the media in Nigeria are tone deaf when it comes to facing up to outrageous human rights abuses in Nigeria,” said Stephen Enada of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON). “[They don’t] want the international community to be aware of the level of atrocities committed against [their] citizens [and because the] government [is] in charge of the public conversation serious skewed reporting and editorializing occurs.

This causes many problems when trying to truly understand the issues at work in this conflict. This is a very complicated conflict that has much more than just normal ethnic-related issues.

There are any number of factors and changing thresholds that have gotten us to this point: Boko Haram destabilizing areas, desertification, families not traveling with cows any longer, just young men, and a flood of weapons from Libya. [This becomes a problem because the] Fulani group is wide-spread across Western Africa, and so any contagion has potential to spread (and seems to be spreading) to other areas,” Nathan Wineinger of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Because of their predominantly Muslim background, Al-Qaeda is interested in militarizing them, which is happening in other countries, though not necessarily Nigeria yet. There also may or may not be corruption that is attached to this, i.e. powerful cattle magnates are persecuting farmers who stand in their way. Religion here seems to be functioning not as an objective, but as identity.

This identity has led to the Fulani militants targeting Christian villages and areas. There have been many reports of Fulani militants attacking with hundreds of men, carrying AK-47s, and even having machine gun mounted trucks and helicopters in some cases. These reports clearly show that this is no longer an ethnic struggle, but an all-out war led by the Fulani militants.

Between January and June 2017, Fulani militants attacked over 15 Christian villages, killed over 200 Christians, and destroyed hundreds of homes, churches and other properties running into tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Villagers have cried out and expressed disappointment over the failure of the Government Security Agencies to adequately protect them from these terrorist elements. When security operatives did respond to distress calls, it was often inadequate or ill-timed as they came after the destruction had already occurred. Communities have therefore resorted to creating militias of their own with which to defend themselves.

One of the worst parts of these atrocities is that the militants attack the same villages repeatedly. In many cases, locals will flee to a safe area. Then, when the locals try to return and rebuild, “The herdsmen have, in some of the villages, either returned to demolish the structures being rebuilt by the farmers, or mowed down crops they have planted and are growing on the farms, ambush and attack the men or abduct their women on the farms and rape them, or continued to send threats to intimidate the villagers, ICC’s correspondent in Nigeria reported. In other cases, the herdsmen actually occupy and settle down in the villages they have sacked regarding them as ‘conquered territory’ and setting up their own camps and build homes there.

What we need to see is a change in the Nigerian government’s response. “There needs to be justice,” Wineinger said. The President needs to go to an [attacked] area and [condemn the violence], direct an investigation, and hold people to account. Compensation needs to be paid, security needs to be established, and work needs to be done to end religious based discrimination. [Finally], a land policy needs to be developed so that there are clearly defined and legitimate ways for cows to move.

President Buhari would be particularly qualified to denounce this violence because he is himself Fulani. Unless his administration is fully ready to denounce the violence, hold the criminals accountable, help rebuild communities and protect others in the future, the safety of all of Nigeria is at risk.