Parish Battered in Nigeria's Good Friday Massacres Welcomes Farmers on the Run

Sections of maize plantations belonging to Christian farmers in Udei in Nigeria's Benue state recently destroyed by Fulani herdsmen. Credit Fr Jacob Igah

The Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Udei Parish of Nigeria's Catholic Diocese of Makurdi has temporarily allocated parcels of land belonging to the Church to scores of families recently displaced by armed Fulani herdsmen.

The parish serves Ngban village which was at the center of the Good Friday Fulani attack that left 43 people dead and hundreds of others displaced in Nigeria's Benue State.

Fr. Jacob Igah, the Parish Priest tells ACI Africa that the 50 households allocated the parish land are the "most desperate cases" of all families that have been displaced by Fulanis and are now living in camps around the church premises.

"Hundreds of families need help but we picked out the direst cases and allowed them to farm at the parish. They will be growing their crops here the rest of this year and next year to help them back on their feet,” Fr. Igah says.

“These are families that are going to bed hungry. They have been chased from their homes and their farms have been turned into Fulani grazing grounds," he says.


The two hectares of land that Fr. Igah gave to the needy households supplied food to the parish staff as well as the learners who attended the primary school within the Church premises.

Today, the school has been turned into a place where locals come to sleep at night for fear of attacks by Fulanis who are reportedly following them to their camp hideouts.

Fr. Igah tells ACI Africa that residents of Ngban and other surrounding settlements have not had a break since the Good Friday and Easter massacre. Fulani herdsmen have continued to intimidate them by destroying their crops.

Sections of maize plantations belonging to Christian farmers in Udei in Nigeria's Benue state recently destroyed by Fulani herdsmen. Credit: Fr Jacob Igah

"The Fulanis must have realized that the killings are not wiping away as many Christians as they wish to see. And now, they have intensified the destruction of Christian farmlands," Fr. Igah says.

More in Africa

He shares that on August 1, the herdsmen, arriving with hundreds of their cattle, entered more than 10 farmlands, destroying crops belonging to Christian farmers.

"They allowed their cattle to graze freely on the yams, maize, and guinea corn. This has become their strategy to kill Christians by starvation," he says, adding that the August 1 incident happened along the road linking Udei to Ngban.

"The destruction of farmlands has been happening for a month now. They bring their cattle to graze on crops as soon as the seedlings start to emerge from the ground," he said.

Fr. Igah finds it baffling that the Fulani herdsmen continue to chase after Christian farmers who have left a bigger chunk of their lands behind, with most of them now living in IDP camps.

Sections of maize plantations belonging to Christian farmers in Udei in Nigeria's Benue state recently destroyed by Fulani herdsmen. Credit: Fr Jacob Igah


"Locals are only left with less than a quarter of what used to be their land. The rest has been taken by the Fulani herdsmen. But it appears that that is not enough since they are following them here to the little parcels they acquired around the camps," the Catholic Priest says.

Fr. Igah has been Parish Priest of Udei since October last year and has seen the security situation of the communities and settlements served by the parish deteriorate by the day.

"I worked here as an assistant parish priest since 2021. Then, we had 13 outstations. When I took over as Parish Priest, we were down by five outstations. Today, only three are remaining. The rest have been closed down owing to the killings and intimidation by Fulani herdsmen," he says.

"Several outstations closed down when 43 people were killed in Ngban. Killings went in surrounding settlements throughout the entire Easter, leading to the closure of more stations. Others were closed when one of the Catechists in the parish and a Church leader was killed," the Priest said, and added, "Whenever a Catechist or Church leader is killed, people are filled with so much fear that they stop going to Church immediately. To them, Church leaders are the pillars of strength."

The only reason that Sacred Heart Udei Parish and two neighboring outstations haven’t closed down is the heavy military presence nearby, Fr. Igah tells ACI Africa.

(Story continues below)

Even then, the parish which is located on the edge of the settlements is surrounded by thickets where militants hide. This makes the primary school, behind the parish, the safest place for the locals. They come here every night and sleep on the floor for fear of attacks. Most nights, Fr. Igah sleeps alone in the parish house.

Sections of maize plantations belonging to Christian farmers in Udei in Nigeria's Benue state recently destroyed by Fulani herdsmen. Credit: Fr Jacob Igah

The Priest understands the danger he faces every night he spends in the parish house alone. He says, "I can't leave. If I leave, the Church will be closed down. I have seen it happen in some of our outstations. If the Catechist or any other Church leader is killed or decides to flee, that marks the end of the outstation."

"I understand the risk of sleeping alone in the parish house but everyone else goes to sleep at the primary school. For militias to get to them, they must first get through me at the parish house. That is why I can’t leave this spot," he says.

Fr. Igah is sad that the Fulanis have risen against the same Christians that they grew up with. He says, "It is not that we don't know those attacking us. These are people we grew up with, living peacefully together. Today, they have turned against us and are killing us."

He explains that in the past, nomadic Fulanis would bring their cows to graze and move on peacefully, looking for pastures. "Today, they come with their cattle and violently chase away the owners of the lands. When they come, they make it clear that they want to settle on the lands."

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.