According to reports in the Nigerian media, confirmed on Monday by a Nigerian priest, a Catholic minor seminary has been attacked by largely Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Jalingo, part of Nigeria’s north-central “Middle Belt” region, leaving no fatalities but several injuries, including two priests.
The attack occurred in the early morning hours Monday, and is the latest in a long-running series of violent incidents involving mostly Muslim herdsmen and mostly Christian farmers in the Middle Belt area.
On Monday, Father Emmanuel Atsue, rector of Sacred Heart Minor Seminary in Jalingo, used WhatsApp to circulate information about the attack, saying he was doing so with permission from Bishop Charles Hammawa of the Diocese of Jalingo.
Atsue said the attack occurred around 12:30 a.m. local time on Monday, and he described the Fulani gunmen as “sophisticated,” saying residents at the minor seminary heard their conversations.
“They shot sporadically at the rector’s residence, broke window glasses in the process, (littered live bullets were collected by police), [and shot out] the windscreen of one of the vehicles belonging to one of the priests,” Atsue said.
“They shot and injured one of the priests, Father Cornelius Pobah, in the leg, [and] beat up Father Stephen Bakari,” he said.
The state commissioner of police told the Nigerian news site Premium Times that the Fulani had targeted Pobah because he had earlier challenged their attempts to graze cattle on seminary grounds.
That was confirmed by Atsue, who wrote, “From their conversations, we were able to understand that their grievance against us is that the security men in the seminary have been challenging their decision to graze right inside the seminary: around the classes, football field, laundry etc.,” he said.
“They said [they would do so] even inside the church, if they see grass their cows will graze,” Atsue added.
For now, the Nigerian priest said, calm has been restored “thanks to the prompt response from the Nigerian Police, Army, Civil Defense and local vigilantes.”
“All our students are complete, none are missing,” Atsue said. “Two of them who were showing them the way to the father’s house suffered injuries from the sticks of the herdsmen. I had a meeting with the officials of the Parents Teachers Association, and the bishop has approved a one-week break for the seminarians to enable them to manage their trauma for a while and to show themselves and their parents that they are safe.”
“Let us continue to pray for and work for peace in Nigeria,” Atsue said.
The attack follows a more lethal incident in late April, when Fulani herdsmen killed 17 worshippers and two Catholic priests while burning down a church in Benue.
The violence seen in such attacks is often fueled by ethnic and religious undertones, as well as grazing rights and dwindling amounts of fertile land. Over the past several months, there’s been an upsurge in violent confrontation between armed herders and unarmed farmers, with the Fulani killing more than 100 people since the beginning of the year.
After the April 24 incident, Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, the national capital, released a statement calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfill campaign promises of ending the killings and to treat all citizens equally.
“Mr. President, when will the killings end?” Onaiyekan asked. “The clock is ticking, and the bomb must be defused quickly.”