Two priests and 17 parishioners were killed when militant Islamist Fulani herdsmen stormed a church during Mass in Makurdi diocese, part of Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha were among those who died when the Fulani struck during early morning Mass at St Ignatius’s Church, Ukpor-Mbalon, in Benue State.
Amid an upsurge in Fulani attacks, Governor of Benue Samuel Ortom said, during a funeral for victims on 22nd May, that 492 people had been killed in that state alone.
Assessments of the violence have highlighted ethnic differences between Christians and the Fulanis and disputes concerning the grazing of the herdsmen’s cattle but religion seems to have become an increasingly important factor.
Father Alexander Yeyock, parish priest of St John’s Church, Asso, gave an interview after a Fulani attack in Easter Week 2018 left two of his faithful dead: “The attack has two dimensions. The first is to Islamise the Christian community… The second dimension is that Fulani herdsmen want to confiscate our arable land for grazing purposes.”
Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Makurdi told ACN: “There is a clear agenda, a plan to Islamise all the areas that are currently predominantly Christian in the… Middle Belt.”
The Nigerian bishops issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attacks and once again called on the federal government to protect lives.
Aid to the Church in Need (UK) News, 13th April 2018, 21st May 2018, Governor Samuel Orton, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, 26th April 2018.