Suspected Fulani herdsmen attack Catholic school in Nigeria

Students at the Father Angus Fraser Memorial High School in Makurdi, Benue state.
Students at the Father Angus Fraser Memorial High School in Makurdi, Benue state. | (Facebook, Angus Fraser Memorial High School, Makurdi)

Gunmen in an area of Nigeria where Fulani herdsmen are active attacked a Catholic school on Tuesday (May 7) night, wounding a security guard in an apparent kidnapping attempt.

In Adeke, a suburb of Makurdi, capital of Benue state, the assailants fired shots at the Father Angus Frazer Memorial High School, wounding the security guard. Civil Defense personnel rushed to the school and foiled the attempt to kidnap students residing at the institution, officials said.

The Rev. Moses Iorapuu, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, said in a press statement that officials closed the school on Wednesday (May 8) as a precaution.

“The principal, Fr. Emmanuel Ogwuche, and the students are all safe, except for a security officer who was badly injured in the attack and is receiving attention at the hospital,” Iorapuu said. “We also appreciate the professionalism of the Civil Defense officers who provide security at the school.”

Iorapuu said the assailants shot indiscriminately at both students and staff members asleep at the school, which is managed by the Via Christi Society. Actions by the principal and a team of Civil Defense officers repelled the attack and averted catastrophe, he said.

Fulanis “have attacked churchgoers, farmers and villagers before, but now they have upped their game, attacking a school,” Iorapuu told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), according to the Catholic Herald. “We are not sure what is going to happen next.”

He said police did not arrive until after the assailants had left.

The school is reportedly located in a district notorious for killings and kidnappings by suspected Fulani militants.

The Makurdi Diocese has tightened security at church buildings and appealed to authorities to safeguard residents, Iorapuu said, adding that he hopes the state governor will “wake up to the reality of what we are facing.”

The Rev. Wilfred Anagbe, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, expressed sadness over attacks on Catholic schools in Benue state, saying herdsmen have destroyed most of its Catholic schools and hospitals.

Human rights group Defenders of Democracy appealed to the Nigerian government to end such attacks.

“As a concerned group of citizens of this country and indigenes of Benue state in particular, we have watched with heavy hearts the escalating humanitarian crisis in the state, where armed herders have been ruthlessly attacking and killing innocent people,” said Amos Uchiv, president of Defenders of Democracy, in a press statement. “This is a stark reminder of the grave situation that has befallen our beloved state.” 

Uchiv said it was heartbreaking to witness so many people displaced from their ancestral lands, living in fear and uncertainty, due to continuous onslaughts by armed invaders who have vowed to take over our lands and occupy them.

“The fact that the attackers are now coming closer to the extent of attacking a popular school right in Makurdi, the state capital, means that death is knocking at our doors if nothing is done urgently,” he said. “We appeal to Nigerian government to intervene urgently and prevent Benue state from being overrun by armed assailants.”

Police said officers and other security personnel have been deployed to the school to protect students and staffs.

Nigeria remained the deadliest place in the world to follow Christ, with 4,118 people killed for their faith from Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2023, according to Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List (WWL) report. More kidnappings of Christians than in any other country also took place in Nigeria, with 3,300.

Nigeria was also the third highest country in number of attacks on churches and other Christian buildings such as hospitals, schools, and cemeteries, with 750, according to the report.

In the 2024 WWL of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria was ranked No. 6, as it was in the previous year.

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a 2020 report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.