Witnesses and responders said they counted more than 100 casualties after reprisal clashes last week between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and a predominantly Christian community in Nigeria’s northeastern Adamawa state.
The attack razed several villages in the southern part of the state, and a military jet bombed a Lutheran church and other targets, witnesses said. Ahmed Sajoh, the state commissioner for information, earlier said the government deployed military aircraft in response to the attack. “We are also aware that the Nigerian Air Force commander has mobilized fighter jets, and got all the necessary approvals to give air support to the ground troops,” he said. Some people suspect the jets were deployed in collaboration with the terrorists because their bombs hit villagers.
Zenald Zidon Love, chaplain of Unity Chapel in Adamawa’s capital, Yola, said the initial fighting began after some herdsmen raped and killed a pregnant woman on her farm in the region’s Numan community. He said the attackers also killed her husband and brother when they tried to intervene. Several community members staged a counterattack on the herdsmen, and they responded with the Dec. 4 ambush on the Numan and Demsa communities. “The people were killed and their places destroyed,” Zidon said.
The Rev. Stephen Mamza, chairman of the state’s branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said he’s received word that more than 100 people died, but the actual number remains unconfirmed: “There are people still missing and we are not sure where they are.”
Violent clashes persist between herdsmen and farmers across Nigeria. The 2017 Global Terrorism Index released by the Institute for Economics and Peace said the conflict, worsened by droughts, erratic rainfall, and land degradation, killed an estimated 60,000 people since 2001 in Nigeria alone. In southern Adamawa, Zidon said the herdsmen attack regularly, especially during the harvest season.
Hebron Nzonzo, who fled during the attack, told Nigeria’s Punch news site the attackers burned down about five villages in the communities and bombed some of the locations: “These villages have come under bombardment from Nigerian Air Force fighter jets in Gyawana and Shaforon, which were bombarded twice.”
Felix Samari, communications officer of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria in Adamawa, confirmed the attack bombed the church in Shaforon. Photos from the scene showed the church with its roof missing and signs of ash and fire in the building. Other images showed houses burned down within the community.
Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo condemned the attack during a visit to the communities. He met on Monday with several northern leaders in the capital city, Abuja, to discuss the persistent killings and clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
In a statement, Mamza said several policemen died in the attack but warned that people are losing confidence in the government: “Local communities had precisely and concisely sighted well-armed killers in different locations over the past days and had reported to the security agencies, but no one listened to them.”
Since the attack, Zidon said different church leaders came together to assist the affected people. He sent three trucks of water from Yola to the communities, and another pastor raised funds to send food. “We’re going beyond the boundaries of denominations,” he said.
— by Onize Ohikere