JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – The 14 people killed in an attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen last week in Plateau state were Christians killed for their faith, not cattlemen slain for their livestock, area Christians said.
In Yelwa, where Muslim Fulani cattlemen have largely replaced Christian ethnicities over the years by means of slash-and-shoot attacks, a throng of heavily armed herdsmen attacked the remnant Christian community in the early hours of Aug. 11, the sources said.
“These Muslim Fulani gunmen were more than 150, and they were armed,” a 40-year-old Christian from the village who fled to Jos told Morning Star News. “They attacked us in Yelwa. Many of the members of our community were killed by them. And they also burned down our houses. Those of us who survived had to run out of the village, some to Shendam town and others to places like Garkawa, Langtang, Pankshin or Jos.”
Yelwa is part of the Shendam Local Government Area in the southern part of Plateau state. On the same morning in Zarazong, in the Jos East Local Government Area, a group of gunmen killed two other Christians, and between the two villages 15 homes were burned down, sources said.
“The gunmen came into the village and began shooting indiscriminately – I saw two dead bodies as I tried escaping from our village,” said a 23-year-old woman of Zarazong whose name, like that of the previous source, is withheld for security reasons. “I cannot for now say who the victims are, as it was difficult for me to know who they are as I was running away. But, I know they are from our village. We are all Christians in our village and are members of COCIN [Church of Christ in Nations].”
Stories of cattle-rustling as a motive for the attacks seeped into the Nigerian press as a means of dousing potential religious conflict, but any stolen cattle was incidental to the attacks, sources said.
The Rev. Sonja Bewarang, chairman of the Plateau chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, confirmed the killings and house burnings.
“Information we have so far received from our pastors in the two attacked villages shows that two of our church members were killed in Zarazong and 12 in Yelwa,” Bewarang said. “We are yet to get the complete details about attacks because of the state of insecurity in the two areas, but I can confirm that all the victims of the attack are members of the Church of Christ in Nations.”
Bewarang said the church was saddened by unprovoked attacks on Christians in Plateau state.
“It is true that there were attacks on some of our villages on Monday, and we are saddened that these have continued without the Nigerian government doing anything to stem them,” Bewarang said.
A week before the attacks on the two villages, the Plateau state government disclosed that 13 years of unabated assaults on Christians have left thousands of widows and orphans. While receiving a conflict management delegation from the Netherlands, Olivia Dazyem, state commissioner for information, lamented that the state has been unable to access humanitarian assistance from the United Nations to alleviate the suffering of Christians.
“It is sad that the U.N. has not deemed it necessary to assist in ameliorating the plight of our orphans and widows caused by violent, religiously induced attacks on our people,” Dazyem said.
Emmanuel Abu, deputy superintendent of police at the Plateau State Police Command, said police had yet to obtain details of casualties in the two villages.
“The commissioner of police, Nasiru Oki, has deployed enough policemen to the villages under attack to control the security situation in both locations,” Abu told Morning Star News. “No arrest has been made yet, and we are doing everything possible to bring the culprits to book.”
In Kaduna state, gunmen in the week hours of Aug. 8 attacked a Christian community in Gimi Dogara village, killing four Christians and setting fire to 15 houses, sources said.
A 47-year-old member of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ in the village who escaped the attack in the Sanga Local Government Area told Morning Star News that Muslim Fulani herdsmen came shooting and burning down homes. His name is withheld for security reasons.
Emmanuel Adamu, chairman of Sanga Local Government Council, confirmed the attack.
“Yes, it is true that there was an invasion of one our villages here in Sanga Local Government Area by Muslim gunmen who are Fulani herdsmen,” Adamu said. “The attack on Gimi Dogara village began at about 11 p.m. and lasted to about 4 a.m.,” he said.
The attack brings the casualty figure of murdered Christians in the area to more than 600 this year, with more than 2,000 Christians displaced in the southern part of the state, according to Christian leaders. Affected Christian communities include Fadan Karshi, Akuku, Ungwar Sankwai, Ungwar Gata, Ungwar Kura, Manchok, Takad and Bondong, they said.
The communities are located in Kaura and Sanga Local Government Areas in the southern part of Kaduna state. In unprovoked attacks in the Sanga LGA, Muslim Fulani gunmen killed 200 Christians over four days, and no fewer than 150,000 of these Christian villagers were displaced. In Bondong, one of the affected Christian communities, 142 Christians alone were killed by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen, they said.
In the attacks in the Kaura LGA, in March alone about 2,000 Christians were displaced in an assault on three villages, an official of the Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) told Morning Star News.
“Two hundred forty houses were burnt, 119 Christians killed, and 22 were injured and hospitalized,” said Dogo Makama, executive secretary of the agency.
Among Christians killed in the Kaura attacks was the family of pastor Likita Riku of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Masankwai village. His wife and three children were killed and his church building burned down. Christian leaders in Kaduna state told Morning Star News that there have been more than 50 such unprovoked attacks on Christian communities the past three months.
“The Southern Kaduna Christian Leaders Council can no longer be silent over the systematic and well-coordinated massacre of our people,” the Most Rev. Joseph Bagobiri, Catholic bishop of Kafanchan Diocese, and the Rt. Rev. Zakka Bonet, Anglican bishop of the same diocese, said in a statement on behalf of the council. “There have been as many as 51 separate, targeted attacks in many communities in southern Kaduna, including recent attacks on Takad and Moro’a communities. As a result of these attacks, not less than 600 persons, including old men, old women, young children and babies, are confirmed to have been murdered. Also, not less than 1,060 houses have been burned. Of necessity, tens of thousands of our people are now refugees in their own fathers’ land.”
The Christian leaders said the Nigerian government has done nothing to contain the onslaught by marauding Muslim Fulani herdsmen and described the killings as “genocide.”
They also said attacks on Christian communities in the area reached an alarming rate in March, when more than 148 Christians were killed on a single day.
“This genocide has reached an alarming scale with the recent massacre of 148 innocent lives in the single attack of Friday, March 14th, that ran through the early hours of Saturday, March 15,” they said. “With heavy hearts and great displeasure we condemn these murderous acts in the strongest possible term and wish to let the whole world know the truth of the predicament that has caught up with us.”
Bagobiri and Bonet listed some of the affected Christian villages attacked by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen as Ungwar Sankwai, Ungwar Gata, and Ungwar Kura (where the 148 people were killed and more than 200 houses destroyed).
“In an earlier attack, a family of seven was wiped out in a heartless and gruesome murder,” they said.
The Christian leaders said neither the Nigerian nor the Kaduna state governments had done anything to check the attacks.
“Why is the government behaving as if they are working in concert with our killers to silence and wipe us out of existence?” they asked.
Security agents seem to be working in concert with some elements in the Nigerian military to attack Christian communities, they added.
“Ours is a double tragedy; we are victims both to the security agents and the Fulani terrorists,” they said. “It is worthy of note, shocking and sad to stress the fact that despite the recent despicable massacre, mass destruction of property and means of livelihood, no effort at all is been made at tracking down these murderers and arsonists who are still threatening the communities using the phones they took as loot during their raids.”
Ephraim Goje, another Christian leader in the area, described the Fulani attacks as a jihad.
“The Fulanis have declared a jihad on Christians of southern Kaduna and other parts of Nigeria, evidenced by this genocide in Bondong village, and the murders in Benue, Plateau, and Taraba states, among others,” he told Morning Star News.
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