Nigeria: Attack on church leader prompts bishops to urge government to curb Fulani violence

After a cardinal escaped being shot at, bishops in Nigeria are calling on the government to act to curb the increasing violence and instability caused by Muslim herdsmen.

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Nigeria survived his car being shot at.Reuters

Cardinal John Onaiyekan survived his vehicle being shot at on April 29 when he was travelling through Edo State in central Nigeria.

The incident prompted Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City and Bishop Donaturs Aihmiosion Ogun of Uromi to speak out about the escalating situation in the state and surrounding areas in central Nigeria.

There have been regular attacks by Fulani militia and herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim, on farmers in the central states of Nigeria. The central states are where the mainly Christian south meets the mainly Muslim north.

The April 29 attack occurred around 5pm, and is thought to have been perpetrated by Fulani militia, but that the cardinal was not specifically targetted.

"We were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Cardinal Onaiyekan told Vatican Radio.

"The car I was riding in was on a public road together with many other cars. We ended up in the middle of one of the attacks that take place every now and then."

These attacks are becoming increasingly frequent, he added. "Two or three weeks ago a car in which two or three priests were riding was attacked and one of the priests seriously injured," he said.

Archbishop Akubeze told reporters: "We thank God nothing happened and we are using this opportunity to appeal to Mr President to provide adequate security for the citizens of Edo State.

"If there is no security of lives and property, no investments or meaningful economic development can take place in the state and the nation at large. We need security and we are demanding that from our government."

He described the recent increase in attacks by the Fulani herdsmen as "becoming frightening".

Bishop Ogun said Nigerians living in Edo State: "cannot continue to live in fear in our own land because of the activities of these criminals".

Although Fulani herdsmen operate in the area, it is not confirmed they committed the attack in question.

"We didn't see anyone, we just heard the 'bam, bam, bam' of the guns and saw that a bullet pierced the car. I didn't see anyone. It could have been them (the Fulani), it could have been other criminals, but in the end what matters is that the road is not safe. We cannot go around with an armed escort. That is no way to live," Onaiyekan said.

"I do not believe they were targeting me or that they knew I was in the middle of that chaos. In fact, I imagine that what happened was embarrassing for them because up until now they have attacked people without drawing much attention."

The motivation was not religion, the cardinal added. "It was a criminal act", he said. "In all those cars on the road that day there was no way to know if someone was Muslim or Christian."