Nigeria (MNN) — Many people are familiar with Boko Haram’s terror campaign to drive Christians out of Nigeria, especially after the Chibok girls kidnapping in 2014. However, the International Crisis Group reported that Fulani herdsmen attacks have been six times deadlier than Boko Haram attacks this year.
The Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria are a Muslim-majority group and often attack Christian villages. The ‘why’ behind their attacks has some to do with religious extremism and some with land wars.
Greg Musselman with The Voice of the Martyrs Canada explains, “The Fulani herdsmen go in and they do burn down villages, but it doesn’t attract as much attention because people can’t quite understand. These are herdsmen. Aren’t they peaceful, nomadic people?”
“But the majority are Muslim and they will be grazing their animals on land that is often owned by Christian farmers. Then when the Christian farmers speak up and say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that. This is our land,’ that then leads to an attack on these villages as these Fulani herdsmen try to take their land from them.”
A recent Fulani herdsmen attack on five villages killed 27 people and injured another 43 – many of them Christians.
“The Fulani herdsmen came into these five villages in this area in northern Nigeria,” Musselman shares. “The people ran into the forest, in the bush. Some of them tried to escape by jumping into the river. Some were shot and killed as they were doing that. Others drowned. Many of them couldn’t swim.”
A local pastor, Reverend Gerison Ezekiel Killa, 43, also drowned in the onslaught. He leaves behind a wife and six children.
Additionally, the Fulani herdsmen looted the villages, stole cattle, and burned several homes. Latest reports say ten villagers are still missing.
According to World Watch Monitor, this was the same region where 3,000 homes were destroyed in a Fulani herdsmen attack in December 2017. The Nigerian Air Force allegedly fired rockets at the villages during the assault.
Musselman was recently in Nigeria with VOM Canada and met two ladies, Janet and Victoria. These women are familiar with the suffering caused by Fulani attackers.
“Both of them lost their husbands and family members as a result of Fulani herdsmen coming into their village at the end of 2016 and into 2017. Part of the work we do at Voice of the Martyrs is to help these widows try to get their lives back on track.”
Through VOM Canada and their ministry partners, widows like Janet and Victoria are getting vocational training, Bible training, and able to become self-supporting. Many start businesses so they can earn a livelihood and get an education for their children.
This is the global Church at work — encouraging and lifting each other up in Christ.
“It was wonderful to see that part of it. [It was] very encouraging how grateful they are to Christians in Canada and America and around the world that are standing with them. They know that they are not alone.”
Musselman says Janet and Victoria still hope to return to their home villages, even though it could put them at risk of another attack.
“I asked them, ‘Are you fearful of going back?’ They said, ‘Yes, we are. But where else do we go? Our family is there. Our livelihood is there.’”
With Nigerian believers facing danger on multiple fronts, especially from Boko Haram and Fulani militants, how does it affect the nature of the Church there?
“Many churches are trying to be active when it comes to not compromising their faith, and they certainly need to be concerned about security issues, but also [they are] wanting to see people come into a relationship with Jesus. So in some ways, it emboldens the Church. For many believers, it causes them to be stronger. Other believers, of course, are fearful and just want to leave and some have left the area.”
When Christians do come under attack, those who survive are confronted with the struggle between bitterness and forgiveness.
“It’s easy sometimes maybe from the outside to say [forgiveness] needs to happen because that’s what Jesus said. We need to forgive our enemies. They know not what they do. And those are all very true things, but to be able to put it into practice is sometimes a very difficult thing.”
However, Musselman says Nigerian Christians — men and women who have lost dearly loved ones to Fulani herdsmen murders — are extending forgiveness and mercy far beyond what many people could imagine in similar circumstances. And it’s only because of the Holy Spirit’s work in them.
“They have worked through the forgiveness process and have actually been able to get by some of the pain. Certainly, it’s going to be there the rest of their lives. But they are even trying to build relationships with the Muslim Fulani people.”
Because of this, VOM Canada has seen people in northern Nigeria come to faith in Jesus Christ — even those from Muslim extremist backgrounds.
Please pray for Nigerian Christians to cling to their faith and offer divine forgiveness to their persecutors.
Musselman shares, “My real prayer would be that they would not be intimidated by the violence, they would still continue to be the salt and light in those areas,…and that they would also be protected, that God would protect them.”
Click here to learn more about VOM Canada’s ministry.
Header photo courtesy of World Watch Monitor