Advertisement

Catholic Peace Organization in Africa Warns of “a gathering storm” in Southern Nigeria

Residents of Ogun State living as refugees in Pobe, Benin Republic, to escape the killing back at home in Southern Nigeria/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

With the ongoing fight against Boko Haram that continues to wreak havoc in the Northern parts of Nigeria, the world seems oblivious of the deteriorating security situation in the Southern part of the country, a Catholic peace entity working in the region has said and warned of “a gathering storm.”

The leadership of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) has been monitoring and documenting growing oppression of civilians in Ogun State, Cross River, Benue, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra states by militants that the organization links to top leadership of the country.

“With the Boko Haram insurgency in the north claiming global headlines, the rapidly deteriorating situation in the south has gone largely unnoticed,” the DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, says in a report shared with ACI Africa.

The official of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) adds, “Over the past months, land invasions by ‘Fulani Cattle Herders’ have increased in the south. Ogun State, Cross River, Benue, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra are particularly severely affected.”

However, local sources in all the mentioned states have told the leadership of DHPI that the people behind the attacks are not cattle herders.

Advertisement

“Cattle herders have been around for decades, leading to conflict with local communities over grazing land. In the past they were young pastoralists who carried knives and sticks,” Mr. Viljoen says, and adds, “Locals describe the current wave as armed Fulani militias.”

Many of these militias carry AK47’s and wear battle fatigues, the Director of the organization that is monitoring evolution of conflicts in a number of African countries says.

He adds that the militias have established camps in the forests near local communities.

Sources in villages in Anambra told DHPI that in many local communities, the militias attack local farmers, killing the men and raping the women.

“In many areas there are now food shortages and hunger. Farmers are too scared to go to their lands. Consequently, there is no food in local markets,” Mr. Viljoen says in the report dated Tuesday, May 25.

More in Africa

During the first week of May, he further says, there have been armed attacks on three police stations including Obosi and Orlu, with numerous fatalities. There has also been an increase in kidnappings.

“Residents in southern cities, including Calabar, lock themselves in their houses after sunset,” the Director of DHPI says, and adds, “The government has blamed the separatist group IPOB (Independent People of Biafra) for the attacks on police stations, and have vowed to crack down on them.”

“Local residents dismiss these explanations, pointing out that IPOB is not well armed, and that IPOB has always claimed responsibility for its actions, which they did not do in the case of the police station attacks,” the official narrates.

Local residents in the mentioned states have told officials of the peace organization that the militias are being transported by trucks from the North of the country, and are then supplied with arms once they have established themselves in the South.

Mr. Viljoen makes reference to a report on May 10 in which a truck carrying arms overturned on a road in Imo state and a separate incident on May 16 where a truck belonging to the Dangote company filled with Fulani, heading towards the east, was intercepted in Imo state.

Advertisement

According to the DHPI leadership, the Fulani operate under the umbrella of an organization known as Miyeti Allah, originally founded to promote Fulani interests, and the patron of Miyeti Allah is Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

Analysts have described the situation in the South of Nigeria as a concerted, well-coordinated occupation, saying that the ultimate goal is to occupy the South and establish a Caliphate, giving the Fulani access to land and mineral resources.

These analysts point to the fact that the government has to date not prosecuted a single Fulani for violent incidents.

“The government has been resisting proposals from governors of southern states to ban uncontrolled grazing. Fulani have been posting on social media that all Nigeria belongs to them,” Mr. Viljoen says, making reference to this report.

The peace analyst says that apprehension in the south has been heightened by members of the House of Representatives saying that all oil in the South belongs to the Northerners.

(Story continues below)

“There are no consolidated statistics of the number of people killed,” the Director of DHPI says, and adds, “Not even on the websites of conflict monitoring organizations. The last posts on ACLED, for example, relate to the ‘End SARS’ uprising.”

He bemoans the fact that the current violence in Southern Nigeria is being reported as clashes with cattle herders, not as occupation of land by armed militia. He says, “This is, however, a matter of semantics.”

Sources in Nigeria say that more than 36,000 have been killed to date. 

On 15 March 2021, The Cable reported that at least 5,000 residents of Ogun State are now living as refugees in Pobe, Benin Republic, to escape the killing.

Mr. Viljoen provides over 25 YouTube links that document separate incidents of attacks across various states in Southern Nigeria and poses, “At what point is the threshold reached where ‘widespread violence and insecurity’ can be called ‘war’? And has Nigeria already crossed that threshold?”