(Photo: Morning Star News)
JOS, Nigeria – Islamic extremists have attacked villages in three states in Nigeria every Sunday this month, killing at least 15 Christians.
Christian leaders in the Agatu Local Government Area of central Nigeria's Benue state said ethnic Fulani herdsmen were responsible for raids on two villages that left seven Christians dead on Sunday morning (Jan. 19), though a Fulani spokesman said the assailants must have come from elsewhere as there are no Fulani herdsmen known in the area.
The previous Sunday (Jan. 12) in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, Christian leaders said terrorists from the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group attacked Sabon Gari village in the Gwoza Local Government Area, killing eight Christians. In Kaduna state the Sunday before that (Jan. 5), churchmen in the Manchok area mobilized in time to repel attacks by Fulani herdsmen, Christian leaders told Morning Star News.
In the Benue state attacks, Fulani herdsmen raided Oweto and Utuluewu villages at about 10 a.m., destroying homes and maiming and killing Christian residents, two Christian leaders said.
"They killed seven of our community members in Oweto and Utuluewu villages in Agatu, while many others were injured in the attack," John Ngbede told Morning Star News. "There was sporadic shooting in these two Christian communities in the early hours of Sunday, at about 10 a.m., when they were in their churches. This incident has forced Christian surviving residents of the two communities to flee their villages."
Ngbede said the names of the slain Christians were not immediately available.
"However, I am sure of the casualty figure of those killed by the Fulani herdsmen," he said. "Seven of them were killed in the attack."
Sule Audu, another Christian community leader in the area, told Morning Star News by phone that a relative, 60-year-old Isah Onum, was among the seven killed.
"I do not understand the rationale behind these incessant killing of our people and the destruction of their homes," Audu said.
Daniel Ezeala, police spokesman for the Benue State Command, confirmed that seven Christians were killed in Sunday's attacks in Agatu. Five soldiers were also killed in the course of intervening.
The state secretary of the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Garus Gololo, reportedly said the assailants must have come from outside the area as he was not aware of any herdsmen in the Idoma-speaking areas of Agatu.
"I'm so sad over the killings in the area," he said. "I'm also told that the soldiers fell in the middle of the crossfire between the Agatu and Fulanis. The killers should be arrested and prosecuted."
In the attacks that killed eight Christians in Borno state, Boko Haram Islamists stormed Sabon Gari village in the Gwoza Local Government Area the night of Jan. 12, according to area Christian leader Peter Biye Gumte. The onslaught came after Boko Haram members destroyed a Church of the Brethren in Nigeria building in Bzuba village on Jan. 8.
Boko Haram insurgents last month attacked four predominantly Christian villages in the Gwoza, Damboa and askira-Uba Local Government Areas, leading to death of at least 26 Christians and destroying about 40 homes. The attacks in Bdagu, Izge, Hartsa and Yazza villages took place from Dec. 8 to Dec. 11.
In Plateau state, Fulani herdsmen in the Langtang North Local Government Area on Jan. 16 killed three Christians and wounded four others in Nwore and Yokdara villages, an area resident said. Kahfa Timbong, Tanden Nandang and Yakubu Changtim were slain, he said.
"The attackers were Fulani herdsmen, Muslims," Nanpon Miri told Morning Star News. "They attacked the two villages during the morning hours, at about 10 a.m."
Repelling the Fulani
In Kaduna state, the attempt by churchmen to defend themselves against armed Fulani herdsmen on Jan. 5 escalated into clashes in a cluster of villages, killing at least five of the assailants and leaving one Christian wounded.
Christian leaders in Manchok in the Kaura Local Government Area said they were thankful to God that Catholic parishioners leaving worship at about 11 a.m. caught sight of two vehicles full of invading ethnic Fulani gunmen – unknown to area Fulanis – in time for churchmen to mobilize to repel them. They said the Fulani herdsmen sought to kill Christians during Sunday worship.
"The gunmen shot indiscriminately at Christians who prevented them from gaining entrance into churches," the Rev. Yakubu Gandu Nkut of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Zankan village, near Manchok, told Morning Star News. "All churches in Manchok, Zankan, Sabon Gari, Fadan Attakar, Gizagwai, Zangang, and in surrounding villages were forced to end their worship services abruptly because of the early morning invasion by these Fulani gunmen."
The Fulani began shooting at crowds of Christians that had gathered to confront them by a church in the Sabon Gari area of Manchok, he said.
"A member of my church was shot by the gunmen and was injured," said Nkut, also chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
Eyewitnesses told Morning Star News that some of the armed attackers were killed in the fracas as they attempt to gain access to churches in Manchok. Kumai Badu, chairman of the Kaura Local Government Council, said five people died in the thwarted attack on area churches but declined further comment.
"It is true that some gunmen were here to attack churches, and this led to a clash between some Christians and Fulani herdsmen, which led to the killing of five persons this morning," Badu said on Jan. 5. "There was a quick intervention from the military stationed here, and everywhere is calm."
A Fulani herdsman in Bungen village, near Manchok, 23-year-old Hashimu Pati, told Morning Star News that some Muslim Fulani gunmen unknown to area herdsmen came to Manchok and caused problems between them and Christians with whom they had been living peacefully.
"Yes, some Fulani armed gunmen were seen in Manchok town – they have brought problems between us and our Christian neighbors," Pati said. "I appeal to the government to help us by assisting to rebuild some of our houses destroyed in the aftermath of the aborted attack on churches."
Christian leaders said the incursion resulted in chaos and confusion in Manchok and all surrounding villages, and houses and vehicles were destroyed in clashes between assailants and Christians.
Services at Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ in Nations, Pentecostal and ECWA churches were cut short, Nkut said.
Bwayan Silas, a Catholic leader in Bungen village, near Manchok, said the raid stopped his worship.
"We were in the church here, the St. Peter's Catholic Church, when we heard sounds of gun shots," Silas said. "We all ran out of the church and found that some Fulani gunmen had invaded the town of Manchok and other communities around. Scared about what was happening as we saw gunmen rushing into our village, we all took to our heels in different directions."
A resident of Manchok said the gunmen left a note in the town threatening further attacks on Christian communities in the area since the Jan. 5 attack was thwarted.
"The Fulani gunmen yesterday [Jan. 8], dropped a letter in the town warning Christians to be prepared for a total war in the coming weeks," Solomon Musa told Morning Star News.