Johan Viljoen, Reabetswe Tloubatla
18 August 2023


The Catholic Diocese of Aguleri announced a special prayer session for Fr Joseph Kene Igweagu, who was kidnapped on 12 October 2022 and his whereabouts are still unknown to now. The Mass with the special intention was held on 4 August, on the feast day of St John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, at St Joseph parish, Abata Nsugbe. According to a statement released at the time of his abduction, Fr Prudentius Emeka Aroh, Archdiocesan chancellor for the diocese of Aguleri, said that Fr Igweagu was returning to his home after celebrating a funeral vigil Mass in Umunachi
when he was accosted and abducted.



Nigerian Army soldiers recently intercepted a smuggling ring while it was transporting a truckload of smuggled ammunition to Anambra state, in the country’s southeast. Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, revealed this in a statement when the incident occurred. He said the troops, working off a tip-off, made the discovery while performing a heavy stop-and-search operation along the Ajilete-Owode Road in Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun state. Some of the ammunition included some 720 packets of red star cartridges of 12 caliber, containing 25 cartridges per packet, totaling some 18000 cartridges. 250 packets of live black cartridges containing 10 packets each, for a total of 2500 cartridges. According to Brigadier-general Nwachukwu, one suspect was a Ghanaian national- Eric Seworvor, and one Lukman Sani. “Information gathered during preliminary investigation revealed that the ammunition, which was surreptitiously concealed in a supposed empty truck, was imported from Mali and intercepted at the Idiroko International Border, where the criminals had successfully beaten several other checkpoints en route their final destination in Onitsha, Anambra state, where they intended to deliver the illegal ammunition.” He says it was only through the intervention of the state troops that the syndicate was prevented from smuggling illegal weapons into the southeast state, emphasizing that the suspects would’ve unleashed terror on civilians and residents, given half a chance.



In a report released by Intersociety, the number of armed militia groups in Nigeria has risen over to as many as 50 in 2023. “Among the Jihadist Fulani Bandits alone, there are more than 15 splinter groups and among the jihadist Fulani herdsmen, there are over five including indigenized Fulani jihadists and regionally assembled jihadists comprising Fulanis from neighbouring African countries. It must be noted that there is an ongoing Fulani Islamic Jihadism across Africa, responsible for attacks in Christian dominant countries of Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Republic, Cameroon, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Central African republic, Namibia, Uganda, etc. and Muslim dominant countries of Niger, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Senegal.” According to the civil society group, an obscure de-facto “law” issued by the former president of Nigeria, made it common practice that the identities of Fulani jihadists should be obscured when they were arrested or caught in felonious acts. Intersociety lists Alhaji Mujahadeen Asari Dokubo, a well-known figure in the Niger Delta, a “radical Islamist”, is one of the government officials working behind the scenes to give support to militia that have declared war on the Christians in the Old Middle Belt, especially in Benue and Plateau states, and also the states of Imo, Ebonyi and Anambra. The report highlights some private armies “with many secretly liked to some top functionaries of some state governments” in the south east. Another alleged government linked group that is killing people and causing destruction on the southeast is Autopilot, which, according to Intersociety, is a “group of
counterfeit agitators behind the enforcement of ‘Monday-sit-at-home’ across the South-East.”


Lawmakers in the United States are calling for the reinstatement of Nigeria’s blacklisting for human rights violations, citing extrajudicial killings recently in at least two states. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, sitting in a subcommittee on religious freedom violations, said the following: “Nigeria is like a slow-motion genocide. In Nigeria the religious freedom conditions have remained abysmal (with) blasphemy laws and armed attacks on believers that have continued to worsen.” Rep Chris Smith added to this, saying that the president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, needs to be made aware of the severity of the situation: Tinubu needs to be told that we are taking religious freedom seriously. My USCIRF colleagues find it so frustrating. There’s always an excuse that leads to death and mayhem. This is not acceptable.” Rep French Hill, from Arkansas says the fact that Nigeria is not listed as a Country of Particular Concern “is a concern to me. When I visited Nigeria, we were told that this is a tribal conflict, not a sectarian one, but the killing of priests on holy days shows that religion and theology do play a role.” Citing one attack, in which vigilantes were stopped on a highway in Panyam, Mangu County, Plateau State on 12 July- they vigilantes were detained by the military, and having given up their weapons, they were summarily shot by the military on the military on the side of the road, prompting a local to call for the Plateau state Assembly to conduct a “thorough and impartial investigation into the human rights violations by the Nigerian military.” Stemming from this incident, Plateau state Assemblyman Dewan K Gabriel has also called for an investigation into ongoing human rights abuses. “I call for a thorough and impartial investigation into the alleged human rights violations committed by the Nigerian military in central Plateau state. The recent reported murder of three self-defense volunteers, who were shot while courageously protecting Christian villages from terrorists.” Although the military is authorized to shoot armed bandits that they suspect to be terrorists, according to Mr. Emeka Anigbo, the military, according to locals, shot uniformed vigilantes, killing one, along with this wife, and wounding three others. The army spokesperson however refused this account, saying the troops came across “hoodlums” on a highway, after which a shootout occurred, in which one hoodlum was killed. The casualty, according to them, was a woman. However, Lt Col Jonah Unuakhalu, a local vigilante leader, rejects this. “On approaching the soldiers, they started firing at us, killing one of our members and the wife of one of those who were with us who was on a motorcycle with her husband going back to Eke. Despite the fact that were in our full security uniform and had identified ourselves, the trigger-happy soldiers opened fire on us at a very close range, killing Oke, and his wife.”



With the ongoing assault of terrorists on communities in plateau state, so-called citizen guards are working around the clock to stem the tide of violence their communities are facing. According to Kyle Abts, director of International Committee on Nigeria, “there is no doubt the citizen guards are saving in Plateau. Vigilante groups in Nigeria have been around for many years and exist to help defend specific communities. They were originally unarmed and stopped common crimes, social violence, and arrested suspected criminals and handed them to police. However, over time with the increased weapons of terrorists, militants, criminals, and bandits they needed to carry weapons- often locally made single shot 12-gauge type. They are officially recognized by the Nigerian government and work with the security forces to protect their communities.” The communities are under siege, very recently with the “mother of all invasions”, which was planned by apparent Fulani militias. These attacks, which were set to take place across the south-east of the country, saw an uptick in violence beginning on 22 July 2023. The purpose of the attacks is to once again force people off their agricultural and ancestral land, kill and maim, and leave the land empty, so the Fulani can claim it as their own. Around the 19th of July, two villages southwest of Jos were attacked, with the villagers resisting, by way of their citizen guards, using homemade single shot gun and hunting rifles. Small groups of 20 to 30 volunteers valiantly held off an early morning raid by 200 to 300 bandits armed with assault rifles. They held them off until the military arrived and took over the counterassault. “They (terrorists) started from Gwarim village of Rim district in Riyom around 7am and later moved to neighbouring Gwon village after they were repelled from Gwarim. Their attempt to invade Gwon was also fiercely resisted and they had to retreat without causing any damage.” says Solomon Dalyop, a lawyer and local tribal leader. in a nearby village the day before however, two vigilantes were killed when they were defending their village. According to Dalyop, terrorists attacked Wereng village, and caught two volunteers unawares around 8pm, killing them. A fast response by the rest of the village forced the attackers to beat a hasty retreat though, helping to keep the village largely safe. “After the security alert circulated, the locals were out keeping watch and that has helped in reducing casualties,” says Dalyop.



Locals in the central parts of Nigeria are being killed off at an alarming rate by heavily armed Fulani jihadists, according to Fr Remigius Ihyula. The Catholic priest, who is the emergency relief coordinator for the diocese of Makurdi, Benue state, has also accused the Muslim led federal government of letting the killings slide, and tacitly approving them by covering up atrocities that have been going on for near on a decade. “In fact, people were even warned not to say they are Fulani herdsmen who have been causing these atrocities such that when you open the general media they are talking about bandits- bandits or they say ‘unknown gunmen’ or things like that. So, you read about bandits. It’s rubbish: they are Fulani men going about with cattle and with guns and killing people and the government won’t do anything about it.” The gunmen are repeatedly attacking Christian majority villages throughout the Middle Belt. These attacks usually involve jihadists burning down homes, killing men and abducting women and children, even raping them. many people are then forced into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, where there is very little hope, and many living in languishing agony. According to Benue officials, as many as 2 million people were made IDPs as of end of 2022. Although government leaders, including former president Muhammadu Buhari, acknowledge the effects of the killings and violence, many placed the cause of violence on the doorstep of ‘climate change’. “These killings have been consistent. We have been documented atrocities that have risen to the level of genocide against our people. People, women and children are killed on a daily basis. They’re butchered, they have been driven from their homes, some have been living in camps for about 10 years. They cannot go back to their homes. They are living in degrading human conditions. They can’t go back to their homes, and no one has been arrested or prosecuted for bringing this kind of hardship. There is an orchestrated design to push especially Christian populations away from these places so that they can occupy those territories. During the rainy season generally, especially around the Middle Belt down the south, the attacks usually slow down- because they cannot move as they want,” says Fr Ihyulu. “It’s a pattern that we know of for some time. They tend to slow down during the rainy season and then it peaks when the grass begins to get dryer…because then they can move easily and, you know, their trucks and their bikes- sometimes they come on bikes, they can [also] drive around.” He says locals are constantly living in fear, and cowering in hiding, “we are seeing them, they are still in the bushes. There are places that people cannot go to because they have already sent them away from those villages and they are occupying those villages, so even when they are not attacking people and killing, people cannot go back to their villages. They (the Fulani jihadists) are occupying those villages and they tend to harm people, they rape women, rape young women, young girls, and kill some when they go to those places.” According to him, many of the jihadists are in fact not Nigerian. “[The Fulani jihadists] come from Guinea, some of them are found in Guinea, some of them are found in Mali, some are found in Burkina Faso, some are found in Chad. The north of Nigeria is bordering Chad and Niger and Cameroon, and those borders are open, so they just walk in. [However] most of the victims are minorities. Nigeria is still mainly a country of tribes and tongues so, for instance, if you come to Nigeria, they will say there are three major tribes: there are Hausa Fulani, there is the Igbos, and there is the Yorubas, and then after that they begin to count minority tribes. It is a way of perpetuating injustice over minority tribes, and they are comfortable with that so that even the leadership of Nigeria. They feel that if you are not Hausa Fulani, you are not qualified to be leader to Nigeria, or you’re not from the Yoruba tribe you are not qualified. Nigeria is supposed to be a democratic country and also a secular state but the Muslim leaders who have led Nigeria, there has been a push by some Muslim elements in the country to Islamize the populace. Imagine that, in a country where we are supposed to have a secular constitution, some parts of our constitution are Sharia. Just imagine that in the United States- there should be elements of the Sharia like someone can marry four wives of somebody’s hand should be cut off if they steal something.” Fr Remigius has great concern that the government is not seen to do anything to support and protect the Christian population, saying the existential jihadist threat they face in the last two presidencies, both of whom are Muslims form the same political parties, makes it harder for Christians as they have no political recourse. “They are very powerful, they have all the monies, they have all the connections, they have people in the U.N., they have people in all the prominent embassies in the world. They tell them that is climate change (not jihadist violence0- I mean for heaven’s sake, climate change, is not confined to Nigeria. People in the U.S. are not killing people because there is climate change. Neither are people in the U.K. killing people because there is climate change. Only in Nigeria [it is] that people are displaced- in the name of climate change and nobody wants the truth to be said, and when you say the truth, you become a target.” We need help in that the American people should talk about this. The more people get to know, the mor the outside world gets to know about this, it’s better for us because now its ‘oh the world is talking about this so let us talk to tomorrow someone will being us before the International Criminal Court.”



A church in the archdiocese of Jos has no men left in its pews. Pam Babos was the only male parishioner left in the church of St Laurence, Riyon, until he too was brutally killed by Fulani attackers who killed him on his way home form a security vigil two weeks ago. Now, the church has a pitiful attendance, almost all of them elderly women as the Fulanis have killed all the men in the outstation parish, situated in one of the hardest hit states in the ongoing Fulani attacks in Nigeria. Fr George Barde, parish priest of St Laurence, expressed his absolute devastation. “Babos was the last of the men who attended the church in Rim. Every man in that outstation is now dead, mostly at the hands of the Fulanis. Young men who were lucky enough have escaped with their lives. To the women in Rim, Babos was a source of strength.” Fr Barde says nearby churches face a similar fate. “The churches don’t exist anymore. I daresay that even in some of these places where some people still go to church, our churches are on life support. They are dying because it is only the elderly people, those who say they would rather die in their ancestral homes than flee, that are going to church.”

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