Recently I saw a tragic piece on BBC about the Fulani –- a nomadic tribe in central Nigeria –- and the victims they prey upon. Knowing a little bit about the ethnic and religious divides tearing up Nigeria today, I knew that there had to be religion angle somewhere.
It turns out there's a ton of them and the story is more complex than you think. Sadly, there's not a ton of international media out there reporting about this mainly because it's Over There (Africa, where people are always killing each other, right?) and it's a dangerous place for a journalist to be. And persecution and warfare linked to religion is, well, not a subject many journalists want to ponder.
But today's troubles Over There often become tomorrow's troubles Over Here, as we saw with the 9/11 attacks. So, let us attend:
At least 86 people have died in central Nigeria after violent clashes broke out between farmers and cattle herders, police in Plateau state said.
Some reports say fighting began on Thursday when ethnic Berom farmers attacked Fulani herders, killing five of them.
A retaliatory attack on Saturday led to more deaths.
I had to look at the South China Morning Post to get more details. The Post's account said the Berom herders first attacked five Fulani herdsmen and cattle. Furious, the Fulani struck back and when the dust cleared, dozens were dead.
Back to BBC, including a glimpse of the complex religion angle in this tragedy. Note the important word "mostly."
The area has a decades-long history of violence between ethnic groups competing for land. ... It's an age-old conflict that has recently taken on a new level of brutality.
In Nigeria's central region settled farming communities and nomadic cattle herders often clash -- usually over access to land and grazing rights.
But these tit-for-tat clashes have erupted into inter-communal warfare, killing thousands in the last year.
This region, where the Muslim north meets the Christian south is prone to religious tension -- herders are ethnic Fulani and mostly Muslim, while the farmers are mostly Christian.
Earlier this year, BBC tells us that 70 people were killed in Benue state for similar reasons. The information commissioner blamed the Fulani.
(Lawrence) Onoja said that herdsman had a "misconception" the law was against them, saying they had not taken the time to look at it closely.
"[Until now] Fulani herders have been a law unto themselves. We want them to adopt ranching. These clashes result from the encroachment of cattle on farmers' land."
The BBC's Haruna Shehu in the capital, Abuja, says Fulani herders' associations have told him they only mount retaliatory attacks when others steal their cattle or kill members of their community.
"They prepare attacks months in advance and enlist fellow herdsmen from as far as Guinea," he said.
Now get this: The religion angle is not just another Muslims vs. Christians conflict.
World Watch Monitor, a Christian group, ran a piece pointing out there are Fulani Christians as well. This story talks about Fulanis who have tried to reconcile with groups oppressed by other Fulani.
Fulani Christians in Nigeria have spoken out against the persistent attacks and killings attributed to Fulani herdsmen in the central state of Plateau, calling on them to embrace peace and shun all acts of violence.
Rev. Buba Aliyu, chairman of the Fulbe Christian Association of Nigeria, led a contingent of Fulani Christian leaders on a visit to the palace in Irigwe, where 60 people have been killed in recent attacks, including 27 people who had sought refuge in a school where the army had a base.
Another World Watch Monitor pieces makes an assertion I’ve seen in other sources: That the Fulani conflict is the worst thing going on in the country today:
Obscured by Boko Haram’s headlines, violence has also raged further south, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt: a less reported, years-long campaign which experts now believe has been responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram.
This last piece is worth a read because it has some really good history therein about how Islam, then Christianity, got to Nigeria in the first place.
Let me repeat: According to a June 29 report in the Geopolitical Monitor, this conflict is more deadly than that with Boko Haram.
The New York Times jumped into the fray last week as well, giving equal voice to Muslim and Christian sides of the dispute.
Since this conflict is in Nigeria's breadbasket territory, expect to hear more. It seems that almost everywhere in this populous country, Muslims and Christians are at each others' throats. Which is not a new story these days, is it? But is this still a news story?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen capture from Biafra Television.