Dr. Dawari George leads 21Wilberforce’s Global Freedom Network in Nigeria. Here is his report from the ground on the Christmas Eve killings and other recent attacks in Plateau, Nigeria.
As Christians, the world over were rejoicing in the euphoria of ushering in the celebration of the day commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christian communities in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local governments of Plateau State Nigeria were unaware of the calamity that was about to befall them. Unfortunately, what ought to be a night and morning of glad tidings turned out to be that of horror. According to the police, twelve communities in Bokkos and three in Barkin Ladi were attacked at about 2200hrs and 2245hrs on Christmas Eve respectively. At least 160 persons were killed and about 300 injured in these unprovoked attacks by gunmen while 221 houses were set ablaze in what the Plateau State Governor, Caleb Mutfwang described as a “Christmas Genocide,” “a clear case of criminality, insurgency, and terrorism.” These attacks went on for about three days with a very poor response from the military and police structures.
Global Freedom Network (GFN) contacted local sources including Baptist pastors to determine the extent of the carnage and what could be done to ameliorate the immediate pain and suffering of those affected as well as steps that could be taken to help avert such occurrences.
According to Baptist leaders in Plateau State, 14 Baptist members including a Pastor were confirmed dead in the gruesome attacks while two others are still missing and considered presumably dead. Many others are among those who sustained varying degrees of injuries and recuperating in hospitals while countless others are either in IDP camps or have fled to relatives in the cities.
Causes of the Crisis
Different reasons have been adduced for the incessant attacks in Plateau State. It is worthy of note that the Christmas Eve attacks on Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi were not the first in the year. In May 2023, neighboring Mangu local government was attacked by Fulani militias and this left about 130 innocent persons dead and over 1000 buildings destroyed. Among the dead were 39 Baptist members including a Reverend and a Deacon.
The federal government of Nigeria has often labeled these types of attacks as a farmer-herder crisis, but the people at the grassroots knew that this was not really the case. It’s a multidimensional crisis that traverses ethnic, religious, political, and economic lines. Quoting the Plateau State Governor, “It is a misrepresentation of facts to describe these needless and unprovoked attacks on our people as a farmer-herder clash as has always been the traditional narrative. Let us call a spade a spade; this is simple genocide,”
Plateau State was a relatively peaceful state until 2001 when an incident around a mosque in the city of Jos where Muslims were having their Friday prayers led to an uproar and killing of a lady just passing by. It escalated into a crisis where many lives were lost and churches, mosques, and individual properties were destroyed. This further escalated from the city to the villages and soon became a political and communal crisis characterized by banditry and land grabbing.
A local pastor said the recent crisis is mainly about jihad and land grabbing as the pattern of attacks has been that Fulani militias come together to invade villages, kill indigenes, and destroy settlements, and once the indigenes relocate from their settlements, the Fulanis take over and settle on their land. In his words, “It has been the desire of the Muslim Ummah to take over Plateau but the indigenes rejected Islam as a religion. They try to multiply by marrying many wives and producing children but it is not working so they feel killing could depopulate the region”
On land grabbing he said, “… the population is growing, making land for farming and pasturing scarce. The Fulani needs to graze and the indigenes want the land to cultivate their crops which led to serious conflict between the indigenes and the marauding Fulanis which led to killing and taking over the land.”
Why the Attacks Have Been Successful
In a country with law and order, one would wonder why these incessant guerrilla attacks on innocent citizens have been largely successfully executed. Factors contributing to this situation include the terrain of these lands, primitive technologies and limited security personnel. Most of the villages in the Plateau are made up of dispersed settlements or hamlets of five or fewer houses, and the next hamlet could be half a kilometer away. The vast area of land with varying topographies and the dispersed settlements sometimes make it difficult for security personnel to be everywhere. Also, the use of primitive technologies by security forces makes it difficult to respond in time to forestall these attacks. The limited number of security personnel is another factor. For example, it’s been said that the ratio of police to citizens in Nigeria is 1:600 which is rather small considering the security challenges faced in the country.
Other reasons are the body language of political leaders which sometimes make things appear as though they are aiding and abating the attackers for reasons best known to them. Otherwise what excuse would be given for the government’s failure to protect its citizens? These citizens were forbidden from bearing any kind of arms for self-defense, and when they asked for community policing they were also denied. Citizen security is left in the hands of soldiers and police who take their first and last orders from whoever sits in Aso Rock.
Finding Lasting Solutions
To find lasting solutions to this menace, the government at all levels needs to broker peace between native communities and the Fulani. There should be proper education on the rights of citizens and people who have ancestral ties to their lands. Also, the government should prohibit any form of religious preaching that incites violent killings and destruction of property. Community policing should be allowed and most importantly, people in vulnerable communities should be allowed to bear arms for self-protection and self-preservation. The military, police, and Department of State Security (DSS) should step up their apparatus for intelligence gathering, early detection of threats, and early warnings for communities. Local pastors and Christian communities in affected localities should also be taught awareness and intelligence-gathering mechanisms for early detection of threats. The Christian community should also continuously pray against any form of Jihad in Nigeria and pray for the peaceful coexistence of people of all faiths.
Meeting the Needs of People Affected
While nothing can be done to bring the dead back, unfortunately, a lot can be done to assist the affected victims. Their families need to be comforted and cared for. People in the hospital receiving treatment require medical needs and support for their hospital bills. For as many that have been displaced and lost the means of their livelihood, palliatives like food, clothing, mattresses beddings, and sanitary items can be provided for them. They also need counselors for trauma management. Another area of need is the provision of building materials for rebuilding and financial support to enable them to return to their farming activities.
The Christmas Eve attack in Plateau, Nigeria is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. It’s an attempt to stifle a people’s means of livelihood and wipe out a people, their history, religion, and identity. This attack was pre-meditated, with intelligence on the imminent attack known to authorities, and yet no action was taken until it happened. An investigation by unbiased international organizations and the Nigerian Government is warranted. There appears to be a cover-up attempt to confuse and justify further attacks and divert attention from the real motives of the attackers which are – ethnic and religious considerations. If not checkmated, such impunity and kid glove responses could set the stage for future occurrences, and this should by all means be avoided.
Dr. Dawari George, Lead, Global Freedom Network Africa