Abuja - 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.
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.
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.
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.
On April 14, a bus station bombing on
the edge of the federal capital Abuja killed at least 75 people. Boko
Haram claimed responsibility for the attack, which was followed the same
day by a mass abduction of teenage schoolgirls in northeast Borno
state, suggesting the state is losing ground against the violence.
statement following a meeting on Thursday between President Goodluck
Jonathan, his security chiefs and all of the country's governors called
the surging violence a "war on all Nigerians", urging them to keep
religion out of all conflicts.
Jonathan may run again in a
February 2015 vote which many fear will exacerbate political, ethnic and
religious enmities racking the country.
"Nigeria will not divide"
Jonathan says Boko Haram will not "disintegrate" the nation. "Nigeria will not divide," he said in an Easter speech.
a sign the currents of violence may feed from each other, Boko Haram
has invoked lack of justice in Middle Belt killings as justification for
its attacks on Christians, including bombings against churches in
Plateau and Kaduna states.
Leaders of Christian "indigene" groups
say they fear the spread southwards of Muslim Hausa-Fulani is an attempt
to impose on them the Islam and sharia law that dominates northern
"So, right now, we don't even know whether it's the Boko
Haram that is spilling over to us or the indigenous Fulanis that we used
to live together with who are coming back to kill our people," Tobias
Nkom Maiwada, king of the Attakar people in the Kaura area who have also
suffered Fulani raids, told Reuters.
Nigeria's military said on
Wednesday "terrorists" - their name for Boko Haram members - were
"operating under the guise of herdsmen", but did not offer further
Boko Haram has targeted villages and schools,
Christian churches, car convoys, police, army and government posts and
killed hundreds, Muslims and Christians, including civilians.
Pressure on the land
of the March raids in the largely Christian communities of Moro'a
farmers identified the attackers as Muslim Fulanis who for years have
brought their herds down annually from the drier north to graze in the
verdant central pastures.
Local farming communities have also
expanded, increasing the pressure on the land, which is studded with
hamlets of mud-walled, tin-roofed homes, crop fields and thatched barns.
This contest for land and living space can explode into violence when rival killings ignite old enmities.
sides complain inaction by the authorities creates a climate of
impunity that feeds reprisal slayings. Since the March 14 attacks,
several Fulani have been killed in revenge.
Isah Adamu, a
37-year-old nomadic Fulani, says Fulanis who have settled in local
communities often help out the raiders. He cites a Hausa proverb saying
"It is only with an insider that a city can be overcome".
Haruna Bayero, chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Rearers Association
of Nigeria, which seeks to represent Fulani, said many displaced Fulanis
felt resentful toward the farmer communities, seeing them enjoying
benefits brought by politicians. "Our people felt unsafe and had to
leave their homes for other places not very convenient for them," he
Attack at night
Likita, who had been sleeping with her sister Afinki in their home in
the village of Ungwar Sankwai, woke on the night of March 14 to hear her
Armed men jumped through the window.
"The men were dressed in black," she said. One fired a shot which ricocheted off the roof and hit Joy's mother.
the Fulani man among them who used to live in our village said they
shouldn't kill us, but the others refused and shot their guns at us. We
all fell to the ground".
"They thought I was dead," said Joy, who
received machete wounds to her hand and head. She told her story of
survival from her bed in the village medical clinic, tears streaming
down her face.
Joy's mother, two sisters and two brothers were killed.
April 2010 to November 2013, in neighbouring northern Plateau State,
similar night attacks on small towns and villages blamed on Fulani
raiders killed more than 500 Christians, mostly Berom people, Human
Rights Watch said in a December 2013 report.
The report on
inter-communal violence in Plateau and Kaduna said since 1992, more than
10,000 people in those two states alone have died in feuding, several
thousand since 2010.
Elections: Trigger for violence
2011, Jonathan was elected in a vote which, despite some violence and
allegations of fraud, was described by observers as one of the most free
and fair ever held in independent Nigeria.
Hausa-Fulani opposition supporters rioted across northern Nigeria,
attacking properties of ruling party officials and Christians and
burning churches. In the south of Kaduna state, Christians killed
hundreds of Muslims, including Fulanis.
Since Jonathan won a court
ruling last year permitting him to run for another term in office,
those who oppose him have repeatedly predicted Nigeria would break up if
he runs again.
Many northerners felt that in his 2011 election,
Jonathan, a former vice-president who took over when northern Muslim
Umaru Yar'Adua died in office, tore up an unwritten rule that power
should rotate between the north and south every two terms.
has not said whether or not he will run, but insists he has a right to.
The national conference he convened since last month to thrash out
ideas for a possible new constitution seems merely to have highlighted
"The nature of the people and religious differences are
so polarised it's very difficult to find any common ground," Max
Siollun, author of Soldiers of Fortune, a history of Nigerian military
regimes, told Reuters.
Doubters of the break-up scenario argue
that Nigeria, since Biafra, has muddled through intact. They say elites
have much to gain from stoking ethnic and religious strife, especially
around election time, but everything to lose by pushing it too far.
for oil wealth spurs tension, but a centralised system of distributing
revenues to 36 states based on population size is a powerful
disincentive for most regions to break away.
Nigeria remains a
dynamic entity, especially around Lagos, with large and growing Internet
usage, a thriving "Nollywood" entertainment sector and increasing
interest from consumer goods firms seeking to tap the huge potential of
an economy which was elevated to Africa's largest last month through a
"I sometimes joke that Nigeria will stay together at least until the oil runs out," said Siollun.
"After that, all bets are off."