During the Christmas holidays, terrorists wreaked havoc among Christian communities in Bokkos, Barkin Ladi, and Mangu, with Bokkos at the epicenter in Plateau State, central Nigeria. The coordinated attacks across 26 villages, starting on December 23 and ending on December 26, resulted in close to 170 confirmed deaths. Fr. Andrew Dewan, the Director of Communications of Pankshin Diocese, where the attacks occurred, provided insights into the situation in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.
Confirming the initial reports of approximately 170 deaths, Fr. Dewan noted that the number is likely to rise as many individuals remain hospitalized with varying degrees of injuries.
The attacks were deliberate and well-coordinated, specifically targeting Christian communities. Fr. Dewan, who resides in the affected community, affirmed that the victims were overwhelmingly Christians, with a few isolated non-Christian individuals.
Regarding the identity of the attackers and their motives, Fr. Dewan stated that survivors and eyewitnesses identified them as Fulani militia or mercenaries. The motive may be linked to previous attacks in the neighboring local government of Mangu, where Fulanis expected cooperation from Christians in the Bokkos area. When this was denied, the attackers returned to perpetrate violence against the communities.
Fr. Dewan highlighted the historical context of the conflict, indicating that Fulani pastoralists, originally from the Sahel region, have moved southward with their cattle due to desertification. This migration has led to a competition for land in the Middle Belt region, resulting in continuous attacks on Christian communities.
The timing of the attacks during Christmas also underscores the religious nature of the conflict. Fr. Dewan emphasized that the deliberate targeting of Christians, especially during a religious celebration, points to the religious dimension of the violence.
Expressing frustration with the lack of response from security forces, Fr. Dewan suggested complicity, noting that despite prior rumors and warnings, the security forces were caught unprepared.
Political leaders, described as absentee leaders, were criticized for their lack of understanding of the community's problems. Fr. Dewan warned of the potential for vigilantism if drastic measures are not taken to address the escalating crisis.
Given the influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Fr. Dewan stressed the challenging role of churches in providing solace and support. The churches are left to respond to emergencies, sourcing food, clothing, and financial resources as the displaced seek shelter amid the cold weather. Despite some Christians considering traditional methods, the majority draw inspiration from scriptures and the lives of early Church saints during these trying times.