By Masara Kim
“Fulani Christians in Nigeria number more than a million,” says the Rev. Buba Aliyu, a former Muslim from the Fulani tribe. “They are highly targeted – both by Fulani Muslims and Christians who mistake them for militants.”
The Fulani are a predominantly Muslim tribe, reputed to be the founders of Islam in Nigeria. In recent years, Islamist Fulani militias have left a trail of carnage across much of Nigeria. But Rev. Aliyu wants to spread the word that not all Fulani are Muslims – and he says the growing number of Fulani Christians are under great pressure.
Born the son of a respected Muslim in northeastern Borno State, Buba Aliyu converted to Christianity in 1995 at the risk of being killed by his siblings who considered him an source of shame. He fled his native home when threats on his life became rife, and became a pastor with Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. His ministry is credited with the conversion of thousands of Fulani Muslims to Christianity.
A former Islamic pulpit servant, Aliyu encountered Christ before meeting any Christian cleric – while he was studying the Qur’an in private. “I started to hear the name of Jesus ringing in my head and before I knew it, all my sins were laid bare before me and, in fear, I ran to a pastor,” Aliyu told me.
“I had 999 charms made from human blood and eyes knitted into my vest. While reading the Qur’an in Suratal Baqara 2 vs 84 which commands Muslims not to shed blood, I started to wonder how the Islamic preachers got the human eyes and blood that they used to make those charms for us. I wondered why the Qur’an would condemn bloodshed and still encourage it. Then my eyes were opened to God’s words in the Bible, which showed a clear contrast with what was in Qur’an, and the salvation that Christ brings,” said Aliyu.
Disowned for abandoning Islam
Shortly after finding his new faith, Aliyu began “aggressive evangelism” among Fulani Muslims, according to Rev. Dr. Titus Pona, a former chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Borno State who trained Aliyu in the ministry. This was despite the fact that he was being hunted for abandoning Islam.
“My father disowned me and shared his cattle with the entire village and they all agreed to lie to the soldiers of [Special Task Force] Operation Zaki, to tell them that I am a thief and should be killed on sight. My blood brother begged to be given the honor of shooting me himself because he is a hunter. It was my mother who saved me when he got the chance to shoot me. She pushed the muzzle of the gun away before he pulled the trigger and wailed, begging him to spare me. He said I had brought shame to the family and didn't deserve to live. She pleaded, even tearing her clothes, and he left in anger but several other times he hunted me even in my hideout,” Aliyu recalled.
Aliyu said he relocated from Borno to Kano and then to Jos where he founded Fulbe (Fulani) Outreach International, which evangelizes to Muslims in deadly no-go zones for Christians. “We have been to virtually all the countries of West Africa, and in Nigeria, we have entered every state. But we have more Fulani converts in Zamfara State. We have them in good numbers too in Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Adamawa, Gombe, Kano, Jigawa, Taraba, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa States as well as Abuja,” he said.
Target of Islamic preachers
The success of his mission made Aliyu a target of Islamic preachers, with his name being circulated among Muslims for possible assassination. In a recent video on the internet, Islamic clerics specifically called on Muslim and Fulani leaders to track down Aliyu for what they called “manipulation” of their members.
But Aliyu, who is also the leader of the Fulani arm of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which he claims has over one million members across the country, says that he has “not even started”. “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” Aliyu said, citing the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21. “If I say I have Christ and yet fear death, then my salvation is incomplete.”
Aliyu said he dreams of reaching Fulani terrorists fighting a religious war and converting them into “messengers of Christ’s gospel”. “If instead of killing them, we preach to them and win them for Christ, the kingdom of God will advance and God will be happy with us because He says he is pained by the death of a sinner,” Aliyu said. As a first step, he recently started a campaign to change the stereotype of the Fulani tribe created by their militant members.
“The violence perpetrated by some of our fellows has given us a bad name and made all of us easy targets wherever we go regardless of our religion,” he said. “This vulnerability has made many of our people who would want to embrace Christianity afraid because the Muslims would be hunting them for converting and the Christians might mistake them for the hostile Fulani.”
Fulani terrorists have taken over more than 380 Christian communities in central Nigeria since 2001, violently displacing their inhabitants. In Plateau State, where over 76 Christian communities have been captured and turned into Muslim-only zones by the Fulani, a silent murder of Fulani Christians has been taking place.
Silent murder of Fulani Christians
On 5 October, 2020, a Fulani former Muslim, Alkassim Adams, was reportedly killed in his village of Rankum – a formerly Christian town to the south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. The town of Rankum was captured after an armed invasion by the Fulani on 11 September, 2001 – the day Islamic terrorists attacked the United States of America.
Adams, a student at COCIN Bible School Zaria in northwestern Kaduna State, was abducted at his family house in the town and then killed, along with two of his Fulani Christian friends, who had accompanied him home for the funeral of his deceased father.
Sources within the village reported that the three were ordered to renounce their Christian faith. When they refused, they were killed. Adams had previously escaped brutal attacks in the same village.
In August, the Epoch Times reported how a Fulani pastor in Bassa County of Plateau State, Adam Musa, was shot by Fulani Muslims in an ambush near his work station in Meyango town.
Musa, whose house was razed in a previous attempt on his life in April, was ferrying a Christian woman on his motorcycle to Meyango from a nearby village when he was attacked at sunset. He survived severe bullet injuries, but his passenger was not so lucky. Musa told The Epoch Times that he has received several threats from Muslim terrorists who have vowed to kill him for abandoning Islam. “They were after my life because I am no longer a Muslim,” he said.
According to Rev. Aliyu, Fulani Christians are terrorized and silently killed across Nigeria by Muslim extremists. “For instance, a fellow Fulani pastor, Musa Ardo, went to evangelize in a village called Dass in Bauchi State in 2014 and was attacked and maimed by his fellow Fulani. His hand was chopped off and his head was battered with a machete so much that it affected his brain. He is now incapacitated in Jos,” Aliyu said.
Living on handouts
“In Plateau two years ago, a Fulani convert in Miango village, Ibrahim Isa Pate, was attacked by his brothers, who killed his son, Samaila,” Aliyu said. “They destroyed his house and seized his cattle. Now he lives on handouts. One of the trustee members of Fulbe Outreach International, Dawe Gani, was also attacked in Wukari area of Taraba State in 2014, and his two sons were killed. A Fulani medical doctor, Dr. Lawal Adamu from Zamfara, converted with his family and has been attacked several times too. He is now an IDP in Mpape area in Abuja.”
Aliyu said that his biggest challenge is providing accommodation and alternative means of livelihood for Fulani Christians who can no longer freely socialize or go back to their original homes. “Presently I have about 47 of them almost completely dependent on me and I don’t have anything but my little salary that comes from the Church of the Brethren. Once in a while we get little donations but because we are still winning souls, the needs are increasing by the day.
“Personally, I live in a two-room apartment with my wife and four children and don’t have a car, despite the fact that I can’t travel by public transport. When I was ordained as pastor in Adamawa State in 2011, Boko Haram sent spies to all the motor parks in Yola, Biu, Maiduguri, Kano, Kaduna and Bauchi State to monitor when I’d be getting into a cab so I could be killed. Those threats are still there but that is not as much a concern as the welfare of these converts, whose children also need an education to become something the Lord can use,” Aliyu said.