On August 1, this year, a Catholic priest with Enugu Diocese, as well as parish priest of St James the Greater Parish, Ugbawka, in same diocese, Rev Fr Paul Offu, was shot dead along Agbudu Road in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State. His death, in the hands of those suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, had sparked off a protest by Catholic priests in Enugu Diocese who also protested against the killing of innocent citizens across the country.
Fr Offu’s death was not the first the Catholic Church had suffered. In April last year, two Catholic priests, Rev Fr Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, were killed right inside the church in Benue State, along with 17 worshippers while celebrating Mass, by those also suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
Long before then, three Catholic priests narrowly escaped death after coming under attack, yet again by Fulani herdsmen, somewhere in Enugu State. It happened on September 26, 2016 in Akachine, Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State.
These killings were part of what is now appearing to be the execution of a secret agenda by highly placed people in the Federal Government of Nigeria. This assumption is buoyed by the fact that up to date, not one of the killers has been prosecuted and convicted. Sometimes, what happens is that some people are paraded as suspects after which nothing more will be heard about them.
But what appears to be very worrisome is that these killings are beginning to get nearer home to the Southeast. It began as what can be believed as a subtle testing of the waters by the Fulani herdsmen and is today seeming to happen with more frequency. About four months ago, the same usual suspects, Fulani herdsmen, had kidnapped someone in Ukpo, Anambra State and marched him through the bush to somewhere in Kogi State. Later, two Catholic priests were kidnapped somewhere in Anambra North on their way to a funeral Mass. Yet again, two days after the killing of Rev Fr Offu, a woman narrowly escaped being kidnapped in the same Awgu area of Enugu State after coming under a hail of bullets by suspected herdsmen. She managed to outrun them in her car.
In all of this, none of the culprits had been arrested. In some cases, those arrested were allowed to go free by security agencies. One of such cases involved a Fulani who was arrested by the vigilantes of a community in Enugu State after attempting a robbery. He was reportedly beaten and handed over to the police. But amazingly, according to the report, the community was asked by the police to take the suspect to hospital and foot the bill of his treatment in order to avert the wrath of the suspect’s Fulani brothers.
If all of this does not show that the Fulani herdsmen are being protected from the top, nothing else will.
But our concern is that gradually this menace is finding its way into the once safe Southeast and it seems no one is doing anything about this. Recently, there were reports of AK-47 rifles being found in large quantities in the bushes of some Southeast communities, with the Fulanis suspected to have been amassing them and storing them for whatever plan they have.
It is time the Southeast Governors moved into action by taking proactive steps to halt this threat before it snowballs into a full scale offensive as the ones happening in Benue and Plateau States.
They should not wait until the zone is trapped. They should urgently work out modalities for the safety of our people as experience has shown that the government at the centre is not ready to admit that the Fulanis are dangerous. The time to act is now.