Catholic Bishop in Nigeria Unable to Access Pastoral Areas as Islamists Wreak Havoc

Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Nigeria's Makurdi Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

For years, Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Makurdi has not paid a single visit to a number of pastoral areas under his care owing to widespread terrorism by Islamist Fulani herdsmen in Benue State that is served by the Nigerian Diocese.

Providing a highlight of attacks, killings and kidnappings that have been on the rise in the Nigerian State between March and May, Bishop Anagbe has said that life has come to a standstill in the once vibrant State, and that pastoral agents are unable to reach the people as Islamists expand their territories in the villages.

“Since I became Bishop in 2014, I have not been able to visit certain pastoral units in my Diocese because the places have been occupied by killer herdsmen who have chased away our people from their ancestral farmlands and homes,” the Nigerian Catholic Bishop says in the statement that was circulated on May 20.

The member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CMF - Claretians) adds, “In these places, all meaningful human activities have ceased save for the herdsmen occupiers who now freely graze their livestock on occupied farmlands.”

“From the time I became Bishop of Makurdi in 2014 to the present day hardly a day passes by that I don’t receive a sad story of killing and displacement of our people by barbaric Fulani herdsmen or unknown gunmen or bandits as the government of Nigeria wants them referred to,” he laments. 


The Nigerian Catholic Bishop says that while the church went into Holy Week, the Islamists chose to attack, with the attacks increasing towards the month of May, a period during which most farming activities happen in Benue State.

Statistics that Bishop Anagbe provided indicate that 14 separate attacks were recorded between March 7 and May 12.

Most attacks involve incidences of killings, injuries and displacements. A few kidnappings were also recorded. 

In a May 21 interview with ACI Africa, the Director of Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) in Makurdi Diocese, Fr. Remigius Ihyula, confirmed the May 20 attack and killing of Christian farmers in Benue State and noted that the situation in the Nigerian State is that of displacement and occupation by armed Fulani herdsmen.

The statistics provided by Bishop Anagbe further indicate that Tiortyu in Guma Local Government Area (alga) of Benue State, was the worst hit area, with the April 12 attack in the area killing 16 people.

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In the statement circulated May 20, the Catholic Bishop says that with the increased attacks, the people of God have undergone immense suffering between March and May.

“The months referred to in this update have been very terrible for me and my people in the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi Benue State, Nigeria because of renewed vicious and senseless killings of defenseless village dwellers by these groups mentioned above,” he says.

He recalls having shared “gory photos of men, women and children hacked to death by killer herdsmen” with Catholic charity and Pontifical foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, and Catholic Charity, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), which has been researching the violent extremism in Southeastern Nigeria for two years.

“For those who may have seen the photos, the sheer brutality and the cutting into pieces of pregnant women, children, the elderly, persons with special needs and harmless and defenseless men may make one sick to say the least,” he says in the statement. 

He adds, “To want to kill people in this manner and occupy their lands reveals like we have always suspected a surreptitious strategy and the desire to annihilate the population under attack.”


The Local Ordinary of Makurdi finds it regrettable that the Nigerian government continues to do nothing about the persistent attacks in the West African nation.

He says that the behavior on the side of the government “says it all: complicity.” This way, the Catholic Bishop senses that the authorities may in a way be colluding with militants to mete suffering to defenseless locals.

He decries the silence of the international community amid the suffering in Africa’s most populous nation, saying, “Sadly, we continue to draw the attention of the outside world to the plan by Islamists to Islamize Christian territories countless times with little or no attention paid to our cry and call for help. Sometimes it appears we have been abandoned to the mercy of the jihadists.”

The Catholic Bishop says that the people of God in Nigeria have found themselves in “daily, incessant, brutal killings of innocent defenseless villagers.”

“No right-minded human being can look at these events and not get angry. Sometimes, I do not know how to react or what to wish for,” he says.

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Bishop Anagbe recalls that since 2012, Benue State, especially Guma, Makurdi, Gwer-West, and Agatu LGAs, has had to bear the brunt of “incessant, sustained attacks” on farming communities by militant groups who he says are hiding as Fulani herdsmen.

The attacks, the Catholic Bishop says, have resulted in massive displacement of huge populations that have then had to seek temporary shelter in internally displaced persons’ camps.

“Every year at this time, killings and displacement of communities hitherto safe and agriculturally viable begins to intensify,” he says, and explains that in Benue State, the period between end of February, March and April is the farming season. “Unfortunately, many villages are now under occupation and inaccessible to farm work,” he says.

“My people are mainly subsistence farmers whose farm work usually would suffice for feeding and sorting out their personal needs but going back to 2014 when the killings and displacement started to peak, thousands have been unable to return to their farms,” the Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Makurdi Diocese since March 2015 says.

He adds that the consequences of attacks against farmers in Benue State are immense, and include severe food shortages, inability to pay for basic needs of life, and to pay for medical or health care needs.

The attacks, Bishop Anagbe says, have also robbed victims of their dignity as they have to rely on donations to survive.

“There is the loss of human dignity and the prevalence of harmful practices as the thousands who are displaced and taking refuge in makeshift shelters have to rely on unsafe coping strategies to survive,” he says, and adds, “The situation of want has reduced many to a condition unworthy of human dignity often relying on food rations contributed by others whose economic conditions is not better off in any way.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.