By Mark Michael

Armed invaders wounded the Rev. Canon James Adebayo Famonure, an Anglican mission pastor and schoolmaster and three members of his family on May 4, opening fire while they were praying together in the sitting room of their home in Ghana Ropp, Plateau State, in central Nigeria. The attack was the latest in a series of assaults attributed to Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria’s Plateau and Kaduna states, which continue unabated even as strict COVID-19 lock downs are in place across the region.

Lagos’ The Punch newspaper reported that 70-year-old Canon Famonure was shot four times by three attackers, who first demanded money. Leaving him for dead, they shot his wife, Naomi, in the back and their two sons, Victor and Adua, in the legs, before fleeing the scene. The family was transported to a hospital in the state capital, where Mrs. Famonure had surgery to remove a bullet lodged near her spinal cord.

The couple are reportedly recovering and are in good spirits, and their sons have already been released.  Mark Lipdo of the Stefanos Foundation, an advocacy group for Christians in the region told World Magazine, “If you see the amount of blood, it’s a miracle he’s not dead,” after visiting the family’s home.

The Famonures have worked as missionaries in the predominantly Muslim region since the early 1970s. Canon Famonure founded an interdenominational missionary agency now known as Calvary Ministries (CAPRO) in 1975. Initially focused on direct evangelism to Muslims and church planting in northern Nigeria, the organization now works among 70 ethnic groups in 34 countries. Famonure is currently serving as headmaster of Messiah College, a Christian high school near his home.

Ubah Gabriel, a local police spokesman, confirmed the incident, and said that a security detail had been posted at the Famunore home. He added that officers were on the trail of those who had launched the attack.

The Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, an evangelical pastor who leads the Nigerian chapter of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, noted that the attack on the Famonures is the latest in a series of similar incidents “We condemn the appalling attack on Reverend Canon Famonure and his family, and we pray for their speedy recovery. The relentless campaign of violence against Christian communities in Kaduna and Plateau, which continues despite the existence of lockdowns in both states, is both perplexing and entirely unacceptable. The fact that these armed assailants are able to attack at will constitutes a security emergency, and every relevant federal and state agency should be brought to bear to ensure the investigation, arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators and their enablers. The cycle of impunity must be brought to an end. Only the presence of security and justice will prevent retaliatory violence from taking hold. The time for federal and state authorities to guarantee security, welfare and the sanctity of life of the Christian community in these areas is long overdue.”

Just two days earlier and about 30 miles northwest, four evangelical Christians were ambushed and killed by Fulani herdsmen while travelling between Kwell village and Miango town. The week before, three Christian villages in neighboring Kaduna State were attacked during a 48-hour period. Two people were killed, and a church and vicarage were burned to the ground, along with 23 other buildings. Last January, Fulani attackers in military fatigues invaded Good Shepherd Minor Seminary, a Roman Catholic institution in Kaduna State, ransacking the buildings and kidnapping four students, one of whom, 18-year-old Michael Nnadi, was severely beaten by the attackers and died of his wounds.

Similar attacks have been occurring across central Nigeria since 2013, originating in land-use disputes between largely Christian farmers and Muslim Fulani cattle-herders, according to a 2018 International Crisis Group report. Pushed south from their traditional homeland by climate-change related desertification, the Fulani are angered by laws that restrict open grazing.

Influenced by the better-known Boko Haram movement in northern Nigeria, some of the herdsmen have embraced an Islamist ideology, and several regional conflicts have made high-powered weapons available and affordable. The attacks have escalated significantly since Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani, became Nigeria’s president in 2015. Christians in the region allege that police have been ineffective in protecting farming villages because there has been little pressure from the national government.

The Most Rev. Benjamin Kwashi, the Archbishop of Jos, the principal city in Plateau State, said the attacks are compounding the difficulties posed by coronavirus restrictions. “We are in a total lockdown in Jos,” he told World Magazine, “with a few days of let out at weekends and this puts us under great pressure.” Kwashi himself survived a similar attack by Fulani herdsmen in 2018, when a neighbor who attempted to come to his assistance was shot and killed.

The local governor has imposed a total lockdown since April 9 on the state, which has only five documented coronavirus cases. Only two breaks of three days each have been allowed for families to go in search of supplies, which are scarce in many villages. Many villagers have crowded into towns, which are perceived to be safer, during the crisis.

The Stefanos Foundation has been distributing food and sanitary items in several towns in Kaduna and Plateau States, while providing instruction in hand-washing and other virus-preventing measures. The information campaign was launched after several incendiary videos by Islamic clerics in the region went viral. One, of a sermon by Sheikh Sani Yahaya, blames the coronavirus on President Donald Trump, calling it an attempt to keep Muslims from gathering for worship and making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Another, reportedly filmed outside a Jos mosque, shows a crowd chanting in the Hausa language, “The mallam [cleric] said there is no corona; we also say there is no corona.”  In response, the The Jama’atu Nasril Islam, a Nigerian Muslim council, cautioned local clerics against spreading false information about the virus.