By Cara Bentley
As 19 people are killed in a village in Plateau state, and four people the following day, reconciliation seems far away between Christians and Muslims.
Violence between Christian farming communities and Muslim Fulani herdsmen in the middle belt areas of Nigeria has increased in recent years, although the land-based rivalry is ongoing.
Many Christians fled the more Muslim Northern states because of lack of opportunities and discrimination and settled in areas such as Plateau state and Benue state. However, these areas now face violence and the increasing targetting of church communities.
Sulieman, a Christian from Nigeria, told Premier that Plateau state had experienced some of the worst violence: “This year alone we counted more than 56 villages that have been attacked” he said, “even last week, there has been at least three attacks…these attacks target these communities; burning houses, killing people and basically displacing people from their homes, from their farmlands and from their sources of income”
When asked why this was happening, he explained that it was a battle over land – as Christians move from the north to avoid discrimination they clash with those in the states they move to.
“The attacks from 2009-2014 have mostly been through Boko Haram in the north east, where several Christians were uprooted from their communities and many of those people ran from those communities to places like Jos and Plateau state to find a place of refuge, but now we struggle with communities being attacked by Muslim Fulani herdsmen and the agenda is basically because of religion, they want to displace those people and take over the land.
“At the moment there is no reconciliation in sight and the attitude of government is also not good because government is responsible to protect its people but this government has allowed the people to be continuously attacked.”
Sulieman grew up in northern Nigeria, where he claims he was treated as a second class citizen: “I, and many of us who come from northern Nigeria, have experienced continuous discrimination in several areas, including access to jobs, even access to admission into school but over the years we have seen how this pressure has transformed…and discrimination has become violence.”
“Something really needs to be done or the church is really, really going to be destroyed” and added that authorities were not helping, saying “The government isn’t coming to our aid”.
As Christians who have moved to middle belt areas face fresh threats, he said they don’t know what to do.
“But now, where do you run to? I mean, people don’t have anywhere else to run to because the places they are running to for safety is now under attack”
In Yobe state in the north, Leah Sharibu is still in captivity under Boko Haram, with one denomination having held three days of prayer and fasting for her. She was kidnapped earlier this year and apparently not released because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Sulieman described the impact of Sharibu’s kidnap on the church: “In some areas it has significantly eroded the confidence of Christians but many Christians are holding on believing that the hand of God will still prevail in Nigeria.
“There’a a lot of politics also involved with Leah Sharibu but we believe God is going to come through for the church as the church stands – and as believers stand with us worldwide in prayer – God will sort out these issues.”
Sulieman asked for prayer for next year’s election: that God will intervene and that they will have a leader who will be compassionate and promote equity, justice and righteousness.
He also asked for prayer that the southern church unites with the northern church and for pastors who are carrying the burden of housing those who’ve fled from other areas.