Report: Wave of murders after elections in Nigeria forces Catholic diocese staff to evacuate

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Dozens of people reportedly were murdered in post-election attacks on villages in Nigeria’s Benue State Wednesday, according to a diocesan official.

In an exclusive interview with ACI Africa Friday, Father Remigius Ihyula, the director of Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, described the violence. He said that staff members at the diocese have been evacuated by the military.

During the attacks, Fulani men armed with military gear descended on the Benue State capital, Makurdi, Ihyula said.

“We keep wondering how ordinary herders can lay their hands on military gear. The only possible scenario is that they are getting help from the authorities,” the priest speculated. The vast majority of the Fulani tribes are Muslims, while the majority of victims are Christian.

Ihyula said that his colleagues were helping to resettle villagers that had been displaced from their homes by armed men on separate dates between Feb. 23 and March 1.

“As I speak to you, there are ongoing attacks in several places. An eyewitness called me on the day of the elections [Feb. 25] informing me that people were being slaughtered in Tyopav village. Then more attacks were reported from Anwase village. The reports of attacks kept coming,” the Nigerian priest said.

International observers are linking the attacks to the outcome of the recently announced presidential results of Nigeria’s general elections, in which an all-Muslim presidential ticket was declared the winner.

He added, “The villages under attack are close to Agagbe camp where our staff works to support the IDPs [internally displaced people]. On March 1, our staff couldn’t leave the camp because the armed attackers were so close by. They had to be escorted out by the military.”

“The attacks are many. Yesterday, I was sent lists of people who had been killed, and others displaced. I am yet to compile it,” Ihyula told ACI Africa. The priest has been compiling monthly updates of attacks in the area served by the Diocese of Markuda. He said initial reports indicated some 30 or more people were killed.

According to the priest, several villages, including Ityuluv, Ugbe, Iyon, Tyopav, Kendev, Anwase, and Maav, all in Kwande Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State, had fallen under attack by militants on Feb. 23 and 25. He said that militants were advancing to more villages in the Nigerian State, displacing locals.

Attacks are also ongoing in Gwer West LGA where many have been killed and others are still missing, he said. He said that locals in Makurdi are protesting after being displaced from their villages.

Ihyula said that the staff at the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi working at Agagbe camp face the danger of attacks every day and that all of them are living with trauma after witnessing many killings.

“On Feb. 9, our staff witnessed killings near the camp as they were coming from work. On Jan. 21, they ran into another attack. They are all traumatized, and some stay away from work for several days,” the member of the clergy of Makurdi Diocese said, adding that the Nigerian Episcopal See was rallying for funds to start a psychosocial support program for its staff.

Additionally, the diocese plans to evacuate IDPs from Agagbe camp where they are surrounded by danger to Naka camp, which is safer, Ihyula said.

Meanwhile, the JPC official of Makurdi Diocese foresees a rise in attacks in Benue State after the Feb. 25 elections that declared 70-year-old Bola Ahmed Tinubu winner of Nigeria’s highly disputed presidential poll.

“The Fulani attacks have been ongoing for years now. In fact, a day hardly passes by without receiving reports of attacks in one village or the other. But with their [Islamist attackers] people entrenched deep in power, all we see in the future are more attacks,” Ihyula said.

“More villages will be displaced,” he said, adding that the Catholic Church in Makurdi will, however, “keep telling the story” to the whole world of the persecution of farming and Christian communities in Nigeria.

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A report that Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) shared with ACI Africa on March 3 indicates that barely a day after the elections attackers invaded Tse Alaa in Udaaya community in Guma LGA of Benue State around 9 p.m. and opened fire, killing about eight people before moving to the neighboring village of Tse Magum. There, continued attacks resulted in several deaths, though the exact number has not been confirmed yet. 

DHPI reports that armed Fulanis have been attacking various villages of Turan specifically, Moon, Mkômon, Mbadura, and Yaav district all in Kwande LGA.

Jato Aka in the area is now filled with fleeing villagers, according to DHPI, the peace entity of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), which is researching the armed conflict in Nigeria’s Benue State says.

DHPI, which has described the violence perpetrated by armed Fulanis as “a gathering storm,” links the attacks to the outcome of the presidential election.

“The [herdsmen] have never hidden their preference for the All Progressives Congress, which they believe will protect them if it wins elections in Benue State. The election results have motivated the killers who have become more daring,” DHPI says in the March 3 report.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

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