“We are on our own”: Christians in Nigeria Convinced Soldiers Working with Islamists

A recent mass burial of victims of Fulani attacks in Riyom, local government area served by St. Laurence Parish of Nigeria's Catholic Archdiocese of Jos. Credit: Fr. George Barde

An incident that happened recently in Riyom Local Government Area of Nigeria’s Plateau State where Fr. George Barde had gone to conduct a mass burial of victims of Fulani attacks opened the eyes of the locals, especially Christians, to a harsh reality: that they are on their own, faced with the raging Islam jihad in the West African country.

It started when two young men who were keeping vigil at the wake were shot; one in the leg and the other in the buttocks.

“The Fulanis were hiding in the bushes and they saw the light from a fire that the boys who were keeping vigil had lit. From their hideout, they shot the boys. The one who was shot in the leg managed to run to the settlement to relay the news that the people were under attack,” Fr. Barde narrates to ACI Africa.

An ambulance was immediately called to rush the two injured men to hospital. Seven men on the vehicle were attacked and killed in what was reported as one of the most gruesome attacks in Riyom happening on a day of a mass burial.

“What got locals surprised the most was that when the gunmen fled after shooting the seven men, they went in the direction of a military post located just about two kilometers from the settlement that had been attacked. The gunmen didn’t run in any other direction because they would have been killed. Instead, they ran towards the military post, passed a checkpoint, and disappeared,” Fr. Barde, the priest in charge of St. Laurence Catholic Parish Riyom in Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Jos says, adding that five of the seven men were members of his parish.


It wasn’t the first time that the locals had suspected the military to be working in cahoots with the militia to target the Christian community in Riyom.

On several other occasions, in the wake of gruesome attacks, locals had found guns, military belts, and other things belonging to soldiers left behind.

“Locals here don’t trust the soldiers anymore. The soldiers have been sent here in large numbers but when they come, they tell us openly that they have come to protect the minority group. Here, the minority group is the Fulanis. When they say that they have come to protect the minority group, we know exactly what they mean,” Fr. Barde says.

The Nigerian priest who bemoaned the killing of the last man at one of the outstations of his parish now believes that Fulanis who are on a killing spree in Riyom have the support of the “high and mighty” occupying top positions in government and that soldiers are being paid to carry out some of the killings targeting Christians.

“From my estimates, including the mass burials I have conducted, I can say that not less than 60 people have been killed in Riyom between April and June,” he says, adding that most of those who die are those who stay put to fight off the Fulanis.

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“Locals sometimes stay to fight. But they are not as equipped as the Fulanis who never seem to run out of ammunition. They are constantly being supplied with sophisticated weapons,” he says.

He says that locals have seen, on countless occasions, aircrafts “fly in the middle of nowhere”, dropping boxes upon boxes of AK-47s to the Fulanis.

Authorities are no longer discreet about their support of militias, the Nigerian Priest says, recounting incidences in which Christian farmers were denied justice when they were harassed by herder Fulanis.

“One case is that of my cook. A few days ago, the herders brought their cattle to her crops. She knew better than to complain because the herders had sticks and guns. Opening her mouth would have landed her in trouble,” Fr. Barde narrates.

“In another place, a small boy with a large herd of cattle took the cattle to graze on a farmer’s maize plantation. The farmer angrily chased the boy who came back with a stick and hit the man. The young boy also had a knife and he injured the owner of the maize plantation. The police intervened but the only thing they did was ask the boy to go and apologize to the farmer. Just that. Nothing more,” Fr. Barde narrates.


According to the Catholic Priest, aggrieved farmers must always cooperate with the herders whether or not they are satisfied with how the conflicts are resolved.

“Should a Christian farmer refuse to cooperate when the herders come to apologize, the herders come at night and wipe off the aggrieved Christian’s family,” he says.

Fr. Barde foresees a “total annihilation” of Christians in the entire Plateau State, and the whole country by extension, should the Fulani killings continue unabated.

He highlights the challenge of ending Christian persecution in Nigeria as leaders in the country remain silent.

He says that politicians, specifically, have chosen to remain mum for fear of reprisal. “They don’t want to talk because everyone who wants to be in the government’s good books and to benefit economically must dance to the government’s tune,” he says, adding that Nigeria has “Fulanis in the government supporting armed Fulanis in the bush.”

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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.