Jos, Nigeria, August 12, 2022 / 1:00 p.m. (CNA).
The new that help was on the way did not come soon enough for Joy Akaa.
The 30-year-old mother of three lost her husband, Orguze Akaa, 50, when he was shot and killed in an ambush on June 30 while searching for extra food for his family in the besieged state of Benue, located in north-central Nigeria.
Yet for Akaa and others attending Mass on August 7 at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, it was still a relief to learn that Benue Governor Samuel Ortom had decided to arm a militia. 500-man volunteers to help defend communities like Agagbe. radicalized Islamic bandits.
“We are ready! We are ready to defend our people and our land,” Ortom promised, as Channels Television reported.
“We can’t keep playing and let them [terrorists]continue,” the governor said. “Benoué is besieged.
Akaa only wished Benue leaders had taken this step sooner.
“If there had been security guards in the village, my husband would still be alive,” she told CNA. “But it was the lack of security that cost him his life.”
Desperate for food
Akaa and her children are among thousands of people uprooted by bandit attacks in surrounding villages and towns in recent years who have sought refuge in camps set up near St. Francis Xavier Parish, which oversees a network of dozens of small churches in the Diocese of Makurdi.
Residents blame radicalized herdsmen from the Fulani tribe, a large ethnic group in West Africa, of being responsible for the violence.
More than 1,700 people in Benue state have been killed in these attacks since 2018, according to a spokesman for the Idoma and Igede ethnic groups said in November.
According to International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Lawmilitants “spreading an Islamic agenda” have killed 192 people so far in 2022 in Benue, making it the fourth most terrorized state behind Kaduna, Niger and Plateau states.
More than a million people have been displaced by the violence, some say estimates. The vast majority of these people – around 80% – are cared for by the Diocese of Makurdi, Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe said.
But places of refuge like St. Francis Xavier Parish are feeling the pressure. Benue is known as Nigeria’s most productive agricultural state, often referred to as the nation’s breadbasket. Yet many people in the camps are going hungry.
“The federal government rarely sends anything to us,” said Ibaa Terna Jacob, who oversees the humanitarian effort at St. Francis Xavier. “The last time they sent us food was months ago.”
On June 30, Orguze Akaa estimated that his only option was to walk for three hours and dig for mud-digging fish in a dry area. flow bed near his abandoned town of Tse-anyion. It was a risky journey, but the once successful farmer wasn’t giving up.
It cost him his life.
Seventeen others met the same fate, said Adakole Daniel, a local youth leader.
“All the attacks took place while people were looking for their daily meals,” Daniel said in a telephone interview.
Bishop Anagbe says the bandits are working in a coordinated manner to clear the densely populated state to make room for herding communities.
“The scale of killing, displacement and wanton destruction of property by these Fulani jihadist militias only reinforces the now revealed agenda to depopulate Christian communities in Nigeria and seize land,” Anagbe wrote in a statement. report published on July 3.
“It is telling that the government currently in power in Nigeria continues to do nothing about these persistent attacks except to give laughable reasons like climate change or that some Muslims, too, are sometimes killed in attacks by so-called saying bandits.
“Having said the above, I would like to say again that, despite threats of personal harm, especially when people speak out against the wicked Fulani jihadist herdsmen, we will continue to draw the attention of the outside world to the plan Islamists and their sponsors to Islamize Christian territories through these killings and the occupation of land,” Anagbe continued.
“Remember what I said in my previous report that since I became Bishop of Makurdi in 2014 until today, not a day goes by that I do not receive a sad story of killing and displacement of our people by barbaric Fulani herders,” he wrote. “For a few years now, I have been unable to carry out pastoral activities in certain parts of my diocese.”
From May 1 to June 30, 70 unarmed people in Benue State were murdered by Fulani terrorists, the Bishop said.
The latest attack on July 14 killed three villagers working on a farm near Akakuma village in the Guma local government area, or county, said Nyiakaa Mike, the county chairman.
“There were seven of them working on their farms when the shepherds shot three dead and removed four others,” Mike said in a telephone interview.
His colleague who heads Gwer West Local Government Area, Ayande Andrew, said terror attacks in his county were happening daily. “They [terrorists]sent people out of their villages and each time they [villagers]try to access their farms for food, they are killed,” Andrew said in a phone interview.
“They move freely with their weapons and have taken over more than 30 communities,” he said.
The disturbed sacraments
Father Cletus Bua, priest in charge of St. Francis Xavier Parish, said Fulani militia attacks since 2018 have prevented nearly 20,000 worshipers from attending Mass and receiving other sacraments in his parish.
“In Agbage [parish]we have 50 antennas and all of them have been moved by Fulani militias,” Bua said.
“These are churches with membership ranging from 200 to 400 each. Many more are retreating to other parishes as attacks increase,” he said.
“Even the Parish Headquarters of Agagbe itself is unsafe as they attacked the community in 2019,” he added.
The parish is one of 15 in the Diocese of Makurdi, which has around 1 million Catholics. The diocese has been the hardest hit of the four dioceses in Benue State.
“This is where the Fulani started their genocide in Benue,” said county chief Mike.
Will armed volunteers make a difference?
Joy Akaa expressed some optimism to CNA. “If these [militia volunteers]will really work, so maybe what happened to my husband won’t happen again,” she said.