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Fr. Andrew Danjuma has spent Christmas and the days that follow burying parishioners. His parish is at the epicenter of a series of attacks in the north-central Nigerian state of Plateau that left about 160 people dead and hundreds injured and displaced.
Most of the victims attacks, which began December 23, are Christians, including, Fr. Danjuma said, 30 of his own parishioners and nine Protestant pastors with many of their family members. Churches, homes, and food storages were torched.
“We’re all in danger because we’ve never really been under any illusion that we’re protected because we have had a long history of this kind of violent attacks,” Fr. Danjuma told Aleteia by phone from Bokkos, Nigeria, on Wednesday. “Tragically, our security personnel, armed forces seem unable to protect life and property.”
Danjuma said his parish has been conducting mass burials since Christmas Day. Among the dead were the mother and siblings of the parish chairman, who were, in the priest’s words, “burnt to ashes.”
He said there were still reports of people dying in hospitals, because they were severely wounded.
The attacks affected about 20 villages in the area. Danjuma said that many of them came under attack on Christmas Eve. “There was some kind of mass slaughter that took place on the night of the 24th right through Christmas,” he said. “So we spent the whole of Christmas Day presiding and conducting mass funerals.
Authorities were reported to still be looking for the attackers, but news reports pointed out that the area has long been plagued by violence between local farmers and migrating herdsmen, particularly of the Fulani tribe. Bokkos has long been one of the epicenters of the conflict, Fr. Danjuma wrote in a report on the latest attacks.
Bokkos, he wrote, is on a major transit route for the herders to the Southern part of the country. It also has good weather and lush vegetation “that suits the Fulani cattle.”
Some observers point to the pressures of climate change as pushing the Fulani herders into the area, causing friction, while others suggest that religious differences are a major factor. The area is largely Christian, while Fulani are mostly Muslim.
“For those who may have held the view that this latest carnages inflicted on the people by the killer Fulani herdsmen (marauders) had no religious undertone, the deliberate targeting of Christians, destruction of their churches, and during one of Christianity’s important celebration (Christmas) confirms the notion that it was, indeed, religious,” he wrote.
He also observed that in some of the communities where Christians live side by side with some of the Fulani Muslims, Fulani residents were spared the violence.
The area has been suffering from conflict for about 20 years, and there are seldom any arrests or legal prosecutions of perpetrators, the priest said. “It therefore breeds this culture of impunity and lawlessness. … No arrests, no prosecution to serve as a deterrent. So the cycle continues.”