Two weeks after the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria’s controversial visit to a Muslim cleric, the nation’s lawless central states have been roiled by violence, including several attacks on Christian farmers, sparking concern among activists about the direction of U.S. policy in Nigeria.
In the most notable among the incidents, a band of alleged Muslim militants attempted on March 20 to gun down the governor of Benue state as he was departing his farm in south-central Nigeria by automobile.
“This past weekend, the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, was attacked and barely escaped death,” Kyle Abts, co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria, told The Epoch Times. “Since he made his assault public, declaring the attack was clearly by Fulani militants, he has been harassed by the Fulani National Movement (FUNAM) claiming responsibility, saying ‘We shall assassinate you soon.’
“Meanwhile, on March 5, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, was hosting the Muslim Fulani leader of Lagos, Alhaji Mohammed Bambado in Lago.
“No one opposes diplomacy, but how does a discussion with a leader from the south-west of Nigeria promote peace and development in a volatile area far removed from his influence?”
The diplomat’s outreach was called a gaffe by some Nigerian media.
“The visit by the U.S. Mission Nigeria was seen by many as a right step, but in the wrong direction,” according to the Nigerian website Opera News, “owing to the fact that Lagos State has a Royal Highness—Oba Rilwan Akinlolu, the traditional ruler in Lagos who exercises traditional authority over everybody living in Lagos, compared to the Sarkin Fulani of Lagos, Alh. [Dr.] Mohammad Abubakar Bambado II that only controls a minority tribe in Lagos.”
The U.S. Mission said in a tweet: “The U.S. firmly believes that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. Mission Leadership appreciated the discussion with the Sarkin Fulani of Lagos on how to promote inter-ethnic dialogue and understanding.”
The U.S. firmly believes that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. Mission Leadership appreciated the discussion with the Sarkin Fulani of Lagos on how to promote inter-ethnic dialogue and understanding. #USinNigeria #Partners4Prosperity pic.twitter.com/qrHaiSnnO0
— U.S. Mission Nigeria (@USinNigeria) March 5, 2021
Tilt Toward Muslims?
Some Nigerian activists from the killing fields of Kaduna state in north-central Nigeria, where thousands of Christian farmers have been slain by Fulani ethnic bandits or terrorists, say the visit was objectionable.
“We all saw this in the news. It was an outrage. And understandably so,” Vincent Bodam, 51, a businessman in Lagos, told The Epoch Times in an email. “This was the first time for such a visit to an unknown Fulani chief by any U.S. ambassador. We were not even told of the reason for the visit nor the outcome.
“The only time in my recollection this happened was when the then-U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, snubbed the then-President Goodluck Jonathan and went straight to see the Sultan of Sokoto in 2014.”
Bodam, who is also a politician from southern Kaduna state, viewed the visit as a return of the Obama administration’s Muslim-friendly policy toward Nigeria.
“Ever since Jonathan declined support for same-sex marriage in Nigeria, Obama refused to sell arms to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. He tacitly supported [President Muhammadu] Buhari and never stepped his foot in Nigeria,” he said.
Abts said: “The U.S. Embassy exists because it has a diplomatic relationship with the Nigerian government, which should allow for mutual criticism and advisement. As the United States promotes its values and beliefs, it has a vital role to promote democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria. Visits with the U.S. Ambassador and the U.S. Mission should be with the actual leaders and victims who have suffered and endured at the hands of violent Fulani militants.”
Northeast of Lagos, in the badlands of Kaduna state, sectarian killings forced an evacuation of 800 farmers in the Kauru Local Governance area over the weekend.
Suspected Fulani militants killed 12 unarmed Christian farmers and left some elderly victims to die in their burning houses on March 18, according to Lawrence Zongo, founder of a crisis website called RuralWatch.news.
The rural village of Kizachi, near Kamaru in the Kauru Local Governance Area, approximately 45 miles east of Kaduna city, has been the scene of numerous terror attacks, Zongo said.
Three others were killed in a terrorist ambush on March 21, Zongo told The Epoch Times in an email.
“The community faced a series of attacks by the Fulani gunmen since the beginning of this year,” Sunday Williams, chief of the Kizachi community, said.
“Since January 1, we have lost 23 people to Fulani attacks. No government assistance has come to protect my people from being killed by Fulani from January to March.”
Ibrahim Simon, an eyewitness from Kizachi, said: “I heard a loud shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is great!’] in a Fulani voice. Within a minute were rapid gunshots. I narrowly escaped that night.
“The weather was cold, we slept very early that day, the attackers came around 10:45 p.m., and the attack lasted for more than an hour. The attackers were many, more than 150.”
The Nigerian army arrived at about 12:45 a.m., an hour after the attack ended, Zongo told The Epoch Times.
He said that a Nigerian army officer who accompanied him to the scene said that “everyone should protect themselves [because] the Nigeria army can’t be everywhere.”
The officer advised the villagers to “stop killing each other” and to protect themselves, Zongo said.
On March 21, suspected Fulani tribesmen killed three young men from the community in an ambush, with one other wounded by gunfire, according to Paul Musa, the leader of the young adult community of Kizachi.
“The Fulani have been attacking our community to take over the land for grazing,” David Ishaya, an elder of the Kizachi, said.
“The Fulani want to displace us and take over our land. They killed our people, burned our houses and clothes; our food also burned, we don’t have access to our land, and many may soon die of hunger.”
Ishaya said: “We want the American government to assist, because we are Christians. The Nigeria government can’t help us.”
Due to strictly enforced gun control laws in Nigeria, most rural farmers are unarmed, although the cattle-herding Fulani people carry assault rifles on a regular basis.
“The people in Kizachi don’t have arms like the Fulani,” Zongo said. Only a few people with hunting skills have locally made single shell shotguns for shooting monkeys.
“One hunter in Kizachi told me, ‘This is a genocide to our people. Christians should be trained to use AK-47 like Fulani. We can’t be burying our people daily.’”
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at email@example.com.