Amidst violent clashes between nomadic-herdsmen and settled farmers in central Nigeria, Catholic bishops met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to work towards a peaceful, equitable solution.

“Herdsmen may be under pressure to save their livestock and economy, but this is never to be done at the expense of other people’s lives and means of livelihood,” the bishops told Buhari. during their Feb. 8 visit to the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The bishops decried the violent attacks in several Nigerian states, including the state of Benue, where 80 people have been killed and 80,000 displaced, according to the BBC.

The Nigerian government has proposed the creation of “cattle colonies” in central Nigeria to provide grazing land for northern herdsmen, who have moved south because of the desertification of the soil in northern Nigeria. They have violently clashed with the farmers of the region, as cattle have overtaken some farmed fields.

Some, including the bishops, have asserted that terrorist groups are embedded among the nomadic herdsmen.

“Violent attacks by unscrupulous persons, among whom are terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, have led to a near civil war situation in many parts of the country,” Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos told the Nigerian president.

“The silence of the federal government in the wake of these horrifying attacks is, to say the least, shocking,” the archbishop continued. “We therefore earnestly urge the government to take very seriously its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of its citizens and ensure that such mindless killings do not reoccur,” said Kaigama, who was accompanied by Bishop William Avenya of Gboko.

However, the bishops told Buhari on Feb. 8 that there must be a better solution, one that does not clearly favor one group in the dispute. The bishops called for an alternative plan that would include assistance for the farmers who have been victims of the attacks by the herdsmen.

“We would like to add our voice to those of other well-meaning Nigerians who insist that a better alternative to open grazing should be sought rather than introducing “cattle colonies” in the country. While thinking of how best to help cattle owners establish ranches, government should equally have plans to help the other farmers whose produce is essential for our survival as a nation.”

The bishops added, “We work with the people at the grassroots and, therefore, have first-hand information about what they are going through.”

During the meeting, the bishops also advocated for the government to address the growing number of kidnappings in Nigeria by investing in better technology to track down the perpetrators.  

The bishops concluded, “As the voice of the voiceless, we shall therefore continue to highlight the plight of our people.”