Nigeria’s surging Christian-Muslim bloodshed strains ‘marriage of irreconcilables’
When Fulani raiders carrying rifles, machetes and clubs stormed his village one night last month, Pius Nna was stunned to see his teenage nephew among them.
“He was leading them and telling them to check very well, because my house would have a lot of people in it and they would be sure to find someone to kill,” said Nna, a tall farmer in his mid-60s who said he escaped by fleeing into the bush.
Sitting in a courtyard littered with rubble, Nna told how his sister’s son, whose father is a Muslim Fulani, had led the raiders to burn down his farm in the attack on Ungwan Gata village, one of several mostly Christian Moro’a communities in Nigeria’s central Middle Belt.
The March 14 raids by Fulani herders on Ungwan Gata and two other villages killed at least 149 people, locals and officials said. Fulani leaders said their own people had been attacked previously and had a right to defend themselves.
Feuding over land and resources between rival communities in the Middle Belt has killed tens of thousands since independence from Britain in 1960. Fueled by ethnic and religious antagonisms, the violence has been compounded since 2009 in Africa’s No. 1 oil producer by a spreading Islamist insurrection in the northeast, led by a group called Boko Haram. That insurgency has killed thousands.
The escalation of conflict, sometimes splitting tribes and families, is straining the divide between Nigeria’s largely Muslim north and Christian south and its future as a unified state, recently declared Africa’s largest economy.