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Nigeria: fears for the advancement of Fulani herders. A Salesian Fr: “they resort to violence to seize the lands of local farmers”

After the extremist terrorism of Boko Haram now Nigeria fears the massive arrival of Muslim Fulani pastoralists who are fleeing desertification. But in order to seize the lands of Christian famers they are committing killings and burning land. SIR addressed the issue with Salesian missionary Fr Roberto Castiglione from Ibadan

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

After Boko Haram’s extremist terrorism now Nigeria’s major fear is the advancement of Fulani herdsmen fleeing desertification. But in order to seize the crops of the famers they resort to violence, leaving dead bodies, wounded villagers and burned land in their wake. Over 200 farmers were killed past June 23 in villages of the central State of Plateau, 15 were killed on April 23, including 2 priests, Fr Joseph Gor and Fr Felix Tyolaha. The Fulani herders are Muslim while most of the farmers are Christian, and it is feared that the clashes caused by economic and climatic reasons could escalate into a religious and tribal conflict. Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa are the most seriously affected States, but violence could extend further. A few days ago the UN launched a cry of alarm: “Violence between farmers and herders is increasingly a major security threat in the region and risks morphing into the terrorist attacks”, perhaps by establishing connections with Boko Haram terrorists in the northern regions. All of this is taking place in one of the most solid economies of the African continent, yet marked by a set of stark contradictions. A survey released a few days ago shows that Nigeria now tops the rank of Countries with the highest proportion of people in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million, thereby overtaking India (73 million). Security, economic downturn, social inequality, lack of infrastructures –roads, hospitals, schools – are among the priorities that should be urgently addressed, according to Fr Roberto Castiglione, a Salesian missionary who for the past fifteen years has been living in Ibanadan, the second largest city in Nigeria, with 4-5 million inhabitants. Fr Castiglione is the dean of the post novitiate institute home to approximately seventy seminarians, priests or diocesan clergy.

“The Christian community is worried, they don’t feel safe.” Fr Castiglione received first-hand news on the clashes between herders and farmers in the central areas of the Country from the youths studying in Ibadan.  “The Christians living in those areas are extremely worried – he said -. The youths don’t feel safe. The police are inefficient. The Fulani are armed and they reportedly intimidate the local population into abandoning their lands to seize them, establish themselves as the majority group and claim ownership.” The situation is being reported by all Nigerian newspapers, but while some play down the issue, others denounce it as a serious problem. “My confreres are seriously concerned, for local authorities have proved unable to control the situation”, he said. “The Fulani are herders, they seek pasture for their kettle. The problem is that

desertification is causing the loss of grazing land in the north, thus the Fulani seek greener pasture Southwards. They are sadly doing it in the wrong way, by resorting to violence,

regardless of the rights of those living on those lands. There appears to be no room for dialogue, although some political representatives said there is arable land available. But if that’s the case, why don’t they give it to them?” Although the “request for grazing land is legitimate – he pointed out – violence is unacceptable. The government has been releasing statements, but they haven’t done enough.”

The threat of a tribal, religious conflict. The Salesian Father shared his fears over a possible “religious and tribal” conflict. “In Nigeria there are many tribes, some of which represent the majority. The Fulani are the most numerous tribes in the north. Despite the attempts of the various governments in office since the Country gained independence – he remarked –

the path leading to peaceful coexistence, void of prejudices, is still long.

Some areas are more tranquil, but the situation in the north remains difficult.” Not to mention the fact that Boko Haram, with the latest horrifying suicide-bombings of young girls forced to give up their lives, has not yet been defeated. “A few days ago they launched an attack against a convoy – said Fr Castiglione -. They have a distorted view of Islam whereby everyone else is their enemy, which includes moderate Muslims as well as Christians.”

As regards the dramatic social inequalities – 87 million people in severe poverty on a population of 186 million – the missionary described a situation of economic crisis that is seriously affecting the poorer brackets. Nigerian economy is heavily dependent on the oil sector but in the last period oil companies find it hard to obtain licenses for exploration and production. “If the oil industry is stalled, it adversely affects the Country’s economy as a whole – he explained -. And revenues benefit a few rich people. Using that money for the public good and for the systematic development of the country is not yet part of the Country’s mentality.” Nigeria would have so many potentials but “the resources are not used properly”:

“Industrialization projects, improved transport routes, hospitals, quality education environments, would be enough.

But there is none of that right now, except for the good policies of local governors in certain States. I was told that development programs have been adopted in the south-east region but it all depends on the leaders-in-office.”

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