Most Rev. William Avenya, Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Benue state has warned of the threat of genocide against Christians in the country’s Middle Belt region.
He described an upsurge of violence by militant Fulani herdsmen as “ethnic cleansing”.
Avenya told Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, of growing fears amid reports that, so far this year, 492 people have died in his state, which has a Christian-majority population.
In an appeal to the international community, he told ACN: “Don’t wait for the genocide to happen before intervening..Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda.
“It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended.”
Local reports on 27 June said extremists “slaughtered more than 200 people” in 10 mainly Christian communities near the city of Jos, although police said there were only 86 fatalities.
Bishop Avenya, noted that Fulani were not attacking majority Muslim areas.
“We are convinced that what is happening is an ethnic cleansing of Christians,” he continued.
His comments come after other senior Church figures from the region described the militant Fulani campaign as a “clear agenda of Islamising the Nigerian Middle Belt”.
They include two other prelates from Benue State – Bishop Peter Adoboh of Katsina-Ala, Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi – and Bishop Matthew Audu of Lafia, from nearby Nassarawa state.
According to research by Christian persecution charity Open Doors, between May 2016 and September 2017, as many as 725 people died in violence in the Middle Belt’s southern Kaduna region – 98 percent of them Christians.
The Fulani themselves say the violence is solely about cattle.
“These attacks are retaliatory,” said a spokesman for the Miyetti Allah, the Fulani herders’ principal advocacy group, speaking in reference to the violence in Plateau state.
President, Muhammadu Buhari, has described the attacks as “deeply unfortunate” but his response to the violence has been seen as half-hearted, with previous military operations doing little to restore the peace, raising suspicions that he is turning a blind eye because he himself is Fulani.
Bishop Avenya called on the West to save lives in the country, saying: “Our faithful are being murdered or forced to live as refugees as a result of the violence. And the West continues to view the matter of the Fulani as merely an internal problem.”