PLATEAU, Nigeria (BP) — Armed Fulani herdsmen killed 120 Christian mourners and injured others leaving a weekend funeral in Plateau State, a Nigerian pastor reported, although varying casualty counts exceed 200.
“Fulani people attacked our members who attended the burial of the father (of) one of our clergy,” Pam Chollom, a pastor who leads the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) Regional Church Council, told the Premium Times of Nigeria June 24. “The armed Fulani ambushed the sympathizers on their way back from the burial, attacked and killed 34 persons from Nekan village, 39 others from Kufang, and 47 people from Ruku village.”
Worshipers fearing further attacks did not attend June 24 Sunday services at any churches in the Gashish district of Barkin Ladi Local Government Area in Plateau, according to View Point Nigeria news.
Baptist Press previously reported the death count at 86, based on press statements from Plateau police. But other casualty counts range from 106 to more than 200. View Point Nigeria said today (June 27) the official death toll might have been skewed, with some corpses taken away before police arrived to assess the tragedy.
Morning Star News cited sources today putting the death toll higher as well, comprising weekend attacks in 10 predominantly Christian villages in Barkin Ladi.
“In Nghar village alone, about 70 corpses of Christians were recovered and the entire village has been burnt down by the Fulani herdsmen,” Morning Star quoted 45-year-old resident Thomas Chuwang, who said those killed were COCIN members. Fellow resident Dogo Nvou told Morning Star, “It is only God Who can comfort us all.”
A Morning Star count of 216 corpses collected during the weekend at two area morgues is in line with other news reports of mass casualties at the Accident and Emergency Unit of Jos University teaching hospital.
The COCIN worship center and the pastor’s home in Kakuruk village are among the buildings herdsmen destroyed, Kakuruk resident Christiana Audu told Morning Star.
“The church building, pastor’s house and many other houses were destroyed by the herdsmen as they set fire on houses,” Morning Star News quoted a text message from Audu. “I saw one corpse as I was escaping. More than 200 of us have escaped to the military base near our village.”
Plateau Gov. Simon Lalong put the death toll at more than 200, Morning Star reported, as did Nigerian House of Representatives speaker Yakubu Dogara on Twitter. Thousands of residents were displaced after losing their homes and crops, Lalong said.
Dogara described the death toll as “about 200 people in the Church of Christ in Nations” in tweets demanding Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari strengthen security. “Our security agencies must rise up to the task of securing the lives of citizens of this country,” Dogara tweeted. “The attack reportedly lasted from 1:00 p.m. Friday (June 22), and lasted till about 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. Where was the Police and other security agencies that they failed to respond to stop the killings?”
The violence precedes Nigerian national elections in February 2019, when Buhari faces reelection. Lalong told Morning Star the unabated violence was spurring widespread criminal activity, including “cattle rustling, theft, banditry, gun running and other forms of crimes amongst our citizens.”
Militant Fulani herdsmen have targeted farmers, mostly Christian, killing them and stealing their land to graze cattle in an ages-old land dispute. But the latest attack, as reported, extends outside the farming community.
Buhari will restructure security in the area, Dogara told Ripples Nigeria after meeting today with the president. Buhari, himself of Fulani heritage, has lamented the violence and accused his detractors of blaming him because of his heritage.
Militant Fulani herdsmen were characterized as a terrorist group as early as 2014, when the Global Terrorism Index described them as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, following Boko Haram, the Islamic State also known as ISIS, and al-Shabab. Herdsmen, targeting Christians, are blamed for thousands of deaths in Nigeria since 2013.
See BP’s June 25 story on the Barkin Ladi killings.