Catholic bishops in Nigeria led thousands of people across the country in peaceful protests against repeated killings by herdsmen in a conflict over fertile land.
Following a directive from the bishops’ conference, the 22nd May protests took place the same day 19 people, including two priests, were buried in Ayati. Fr Joseph Gor, Fr Felix Tyolaha and 17 parishioners were killed during the celebration of Mass at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Ayar Mbalom. Attackers also burned about 50 houses, nearly destroying the small community in Benue state.
Benue, in north-central Nigeria, is the state worst hit in the conflict over fertile land. Often fighting is between the mostly Muslim semi-nomadic herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers.
Thousands of herdsmen have moved southward to flee spreading desertification in the North, putting pressure on dwindling fertile land amid rapid population growth. The herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, strongly oppose new anti-grazing legislation that was signed into law by the Benue state government in November.
In his homily at the funeral Mass for those killed in the church attack, Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja said: “Killing people in a place of worship is an assault on God…Killing a priest of God is an abomination.”
Picture: Nigerians carry placards during a 22nd May protest in Lagos against the killing of innocent citizens, presumably by herdsmen, in some parts of the country. Catholics marched in various cities around the country. (CNS photo/Peter Dada).