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Nigerian diocese angry at lack of government intervention in countless Christian murders

by Cara Bentley

On Monday morning in a village called Mbalom in Nigeria, a gun attack on St Ignatius church killed 2 priests and 17 members of the congregation during a morning mass.

Parish Priest Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha died in the attack of around 30 militia men. 

Many villagers fled into the bush as the militia men fired indiscriminately, burning down around 73 homes and destroying food stores. 

The attack is thought to have been by Fulani herdsmen, a group who have had several clashes with the Christian community in Nigeria over the years. 

Premier spoke to Father Moses Iorapu from the Makurdi diocese in which the attack took place. 

Father Moses told Premier: "It's not the first time it [St Ignatius] has been attacked, the place was attacked in 2014 and so many people killed."

Listen to the full interview with Father Moses Iorapu from Makurdi Diocese in Nigeria, speaking to Premier's Cara Bentley:

He described how violent the attacks are: "The herdsmen come and they're properly armed with AK-47s and they attack the people,

"And they don't just attack...they bring down houses and they use machetes, they start shooting people, they butcher people in a manner than animals aren't even butchered."

Persecution charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide say an estimated 170,000 people in Benue state have been displaced internally as a result of herder militia violence, meaning this attack on St Ignatius isn't a one-off event but just the latest horrific incident of the same nature. Father Moses said: "As we talk, other places are still under attack."

He's not only distraught at the murder of believers in his area but is appalled at lack of clarity from the government on the issue: "The sad thing about it is that the government is not able to apprehend not even one of these people – these herdsmen. The President Muhammadu Buhari has not even defined any one of them as a terrorist, he has not named any one of them as a hit man who is involved in the killing. They only call them 'bandits'...without defining who they are."

President Muhammadu Buhari referred to the perpetrators of the Mbalom attack as "gunmen" and assured "the people of Benue, and all Nigerians" that the government would "ensure that the assailants are apprehended and brought to justice for this vile and sacrilegious act."  

With Benue state being under attack so frequently from the same group, Father Moses wants the President to call them out specifically: "They are herdsmen who belong to the Fulani tribe" he said. 

Benue state is predominantly a Christian state and Father Moses thinks Muslim Fulani herdsmen target Christians because they want to 'Islamise' the area. 

"We lived with them for years in peace but they were not carrying AK-47s, they were not armed with guns, they had sticks and there was this mutual understanding that they avoided the farmlands and they never destroyed property - they never killed anybody."

Speaking of the situation now, he said: "They kill people when they're sleeping."

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