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Nigerian gunmen leave scores of Christians dead

04 January 2024

CSW

A building in a village in Plateau State damaged during a Christmas attack

A building in a village in Plateau State damaged during a Christmas attack

SCORES of people died in an attack on Christian communities in Plateau State, Nigeria, which began on Christmas Eve and continued into Christmas Day.

About 195 people are thought to have died after armed gunmen attacked remote communities, destroying homes and property and killing people indiscriminately. Many are reported to have been burned to death in their homes.

The Pope, his Angelus message in St Peter’s Square, on New Year’s Eve, prayed for God to free Nigeria from such atrocities.

The charity Release International said that, in one village, nine church members, including the pastor, were murdered, and eight Baptist churches were burned down. In footage circulating on social media, a woman carrying a baby was seen being attacked.

Attacks on Christian communities in this part of Nigeria have been increasing for years (News, 14 July 2023). Tensions between the largely Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farming communities have been inflamed over access to land and water, but Christians believe that religious persecution lies behind the rising violence.

In his New Year broadcast, the Governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang, described the attacks as genocide and said that they were not clashes between farmers and herders. “These series of attacks on our people are a clear case of criminality, insurgency, and terrorism, and must be seen and handled in that manner if we must succeed in halting this wanton destruction of lives and property.”

The state government declared seven days of mourning.

The president of the Christian Council of Nigeria, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, of Christ Holy Church Interational, called for a stronger police and military response. “The burning down of houses, worship centres, and the destruction of properties worth millions of naira is not only a criminal act but also a direct assault on our shared values of peace, unity, and mutual respect. Such acts have no place in our society, and must not be allowed to prevail,” he said.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, called on partners and Churches around the world to “raise their voice in prayer for equal human rights, justice, and peace in Nigeria”.

Release International published its latest Persecution Trends Report at the end of December. This warns that violence against Christians is expected to intensify this year in Nigeria, and also in India, Pakistan, and China.

“The persistent killing of small groups and individuals is spreading across the central regions of southern Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, and Taraba states,” the report says. Jihadists and their allies are attacking Christian communities, “dispossessing them of their lands by destroying their food supplies and forcing them to convert or flee”.

It estimates that, in 2023, more than 6000 Christians were killed in Nigeria.

In India, which is also entering an election year, persecution of Christians is growing under the current Hindu nationalist government, the Persecution Trends Report warns. In Manipur, in north-east India last year, a wave of violence led to 175 deaths and reports of sexual violence against women; video footage of an attack on two women drew worldwide attention (News, 28 July 2023).

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