LAGOS, Nigeria (BP)–Hundreds of Christians were murdered in an overnight massacre by ethnic Fulani Muslims March 7 in Nigeria’s Plateau state.
Rampaging Fulani herdsmen used machetes to kill the mostly ethnic Berom victims, including many women and children, in three farming villages near the city of Jos. About 75 houses also were burned.
State Information Commissioner Gregory Yenlong confirmed that about 500 persons were killed in the attacks, which took place mainly in Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Rastat villages.
“We were woken up by gunshots in the middle of the night, and before we knew what was happening, our houses were torched and they started hacking down people” survivor Musa Gyang told media.
The assailants apparently came on foot from a neighboring state; security forces reportedly had been alerted of a possible attack on the villages but did not act beforehand.
Some 380 Christians were buried in one mass burial space, a local government official who asked to remain anonymous told International Christian Concern. The official said police have arrested 93 people and recovered guns, knives and other weapons from the suspects.
The attack is the latest in several religious clashes in the state in recent months that have claimed lives and property. Plateau state lies in Nigeria’s “middle belt” and has dozens of ethnic groups living in near proximity to each other, the Associated Press reports. Plateau is a predominantly Christian state in a country almost evenly divided between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. The area has been the site of intense clashes over land, and Jos has been under a military curfew since more than 300 people — mostly Muslims — were killed in religious-based violence in January. Officials speculate the March 7 attack was in reprisal for the January violence, the AP reported.
Bishop Andersen Bok, national coordinator of the Plateau State Elders Christian Fellowship, along with group Secretary General Musa Pam, described the attack as yet another “jihad and provocation on Christians.”
“Dogo Nahawa is a Christian community,” the Christian leaders said in a statement. “Eyewitnesses say the Hausa Fulani Muslim militants were chanting ‘Allah Akbar,’ broke into houses, cutting human beings, including children and women with their knives and cutlasses.”
Soon after the militants besieged Dogo Nahawa, the Christian leaders said, at 1:30 a.m. they contacted the military, which is in charge of security in the state.
“But we were shocked to find out that the soldiers did not react until about 3:30 a.m., after the Muslim attackers had finished their job and left,” they stated. “We are tired of these genocides on our Christian brothers and state here that we will not let this go unchallenged.”
Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria President Ayo Oritsejafor decried the attack on the Christian community as barbaric and urged the federal government to stop the killing of innocent citizens or risk a total breakdown of law and order.
“I have just returned from a trip abroad,” Oritsejafor said. “While I was away, I was inundated with reports of another catastrophe in the Jigawa state capital, where several churches were burnt, and just as I was trying to settle down and collate reports from the field, I am hearing of another on Sunday morning.”
Gabriel Osu, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, said the Sunday killing in Jos is a major setback for the country’s effort to gain the confidence of the international community.
“Do you know that because of things like these, anywhere Nigerians travel to they are subjected to dehumanizing scrutiny?” he said. “Any act of violence at this time is totally condemned, and the government should make haste to fish out all identified perpetrators of such heinous crimes against God so that we can move forward as a people united under one umbrella.”
On March 5, Abel Damina, the national youth president of the PFN, expressed concern over cases of clandestine killings of Christians in remote parts of Plateau state by Islamic extremists and called on the federal government to retrieve sophisticated weapons in their possession.
“Even as I speak to you now, I am receiving reports that some clandestine killings are still going on in the remote areas of Plateau State by the fundamentalists,” Damina was quoted as saying. “They pounce on Christians and kill them without anybody knowing much of their identity except that they are Christians.”
He added that recently he visited the governor in Jos regarding the crisis and secured photos of Christian victims.
“Young men, Christians, were going to their farm to harvest their produce and the fundamentalists pounced on them,” Damina said. “They were called infidels. At the last conference, we received reports with photographs of the fundamentalists using AK-47 rifles to destroy our churches. Where did they get the arms from? We have reports of truck loads of arms that had been intercepted, and we did not hear anything about them.”
Lekan Otufodunrin is a writer with Compass Direct, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission. With additional information from Associated Press reports.