AFRICA/NIGERIA - Attacks by bands of Fulani herders: a conflict that is not only "religious"

Wednesday, 7 June 2023 violence  

Abuja (Agenzia Fides) - According to the local press, a catechist and his wife were among the dozens of victims of an attack committed last month in a village in the state of Benue, in central Nigeria.
In the May 8 raid by a band of Fulani herdsmen on St. Peter's Catholic Church in the village of Hirnyam, Guma County, Dominic Dajo and his wife were killed, along with a dozen others people.
On the same day, bands of Fulani attacked the villages of Tse Vambe, Tse Ortim and Torough Mbanyiar in the same county. Over the next two weeks, they attacked dozens of other villages in the area.
These attacks, which are mainly perceived from the angle of a religious confrontation (Muslim Fulani herders against Christian farmers), nevertheless have many facets. The Fulani are a population of several million people living in different parts of Nigeria and throughout the Sahel. They are predominantly Muslim and consist of hundreds of clans of different lineages, most of which are non-extremist. There are, however, Fulanis who adhere to the radical Islamist ideology, disseminated in the region by groups claiming to be al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
While the religious component of the conflict cannot be denied, given that these groups adopt extremist symbolism (for example, they shout "Allah Akbar" during the raids and attack Christian places of worship), this should not make us lose sight of the political and economic factors that fuel it. In Nigeria, more than one politician supports the clash of ethnic and religious identities between different groups, in order to present themselves as the only ones capable of defending their constituents (who often coincide with a particular population). The use of social media to fuel hate campaigns based on fear of the other only fuels communal conflicts, also because the Nigerian government's failure to guarantee security has encouraged the creation of armed militias according to ethnic and religious criteria to protect the interests of different communities. The criminal dimension of the phenomenon should not be neglected, because during their assaults, Fulani gangs loot their victims. The war against the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011 introduced a huge amount of firearms from the exterminated arsenals of the former regime into the illegal market from the Sahel to Nigeria. As a result, Nigerian illegal groups now have easy access to weapons of war, which increases their danger.
Finally, environmental factors with the advance of the desert in the Sahel has increased the struggle for resources (water and land) in the context of the centuries-old confrontation between herders (such as the Fulani) and farmers. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 7/6/2023)