The Al Jazeera TV network has reported on the growing concerns amongst farmers and the Christian community in central and southern Nigeria over the threat posed by Fulani cattle herdsmen who have roamed the region for centuries.
Climate Change and the ongoing southward encroachment of the Sahara Desert is adding to tensions as the herdsmen are staying longer in areas which, traditionally, their nomadic lifestyle moved them through, raising tensions with farming communities who accuse them of damaging crop yields and taking their water.
Attacks have been on the increase since April 2016. According to the report “every few weeks, more Nigerian communities join the growing list of those attacked by suspected Fulani herdsmen: Agatu, Nimbo, Galadima, Obiaruku, Abraka, Tarka, Buruku, Ngodo and Biogbolo.”
Al Jazeera quotes the 2015 Global Terrorism Index which reported that “Fulani militants” are the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world, responsible for the deaths of 1,229 people in 2014 – up from 63 in 2013, who now pose a serious threat to Nigerian stability.
The Fulani militants are an additional ethnic and religious concern, coming on the heels of the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nigerians in the past seven years.
The report quotes 51-year-old Paul Odiegwu, an elder at a church in Nimbo that was destroyed by suspected Fulani herdsmen: “The Fulanis are against Christians. They see us as slaves.”
Odliegwu is echoing a famous Fulani uprising in 1804, led by Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, which shaped the political and cultural landscape of what was to become the nation of Nigeria a century later. Many Nigerians fear that increasing Fulani aggression is a continuation and renewal of that uprising when the Fulani took over communities across north and central Nigeria and parts of Cameroon with the aim of propagating a purer version of Islam.
They subjected people from other ethnic groups as slaves, established an empire, dethroned local leaders, and set themselves up as the ruling aristocracy. Their rule continues in many communities today. Many of the most revered Muslim leaders in Nigeria are from Fulani families.
This history is what many Nigerians fear is playing out again.
The full Al Jazeera report can be read here: