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Nigerians demand change after deadly Christmas carnage

The peace march comes as violent attacks still plague Christian communities in the north


Para-Mallam (second from right) with other Christian leaders lead the peace walk in Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of Para-Mallam Peace Foundation

Nigerians demand change after deadly Christmas carnage

On Monday morning, thousands of Christians mostly dressed in black mustered at a roundabout in Jos, the capital of Nigeria’s Plateau state. They marched together to the government house, some holding green branches and others with placards that said “We are weary,” and “Peace is all we want.”

The Plateau Peace Walk brought together leaders across denominations in response to bloody coordinated attacks in majority-Christian communities during Christmas week. Christian leaders say the death toll has topped 200 people. The carnage has renewed cries for a more sustainable solution to the violence in Plateau and other conflict-hit states.

Residents said the attacks started on Dec. 23 and continued for several days. Armed men opened fire on simultaneous attacks across more than 20 communities. Terrified adults and children fled after the attackers burned down houses and at least 10 churches.

Mary Samuel sought shelter inside a primary school after the attack. “We are a family of 12 people in our house. None survived the attack except only me,” she told local media. “I crawled along with many others on the ground in the night in the bush to be able to reach here.”

The victims include the Rev. Solomon Gushe, a Baptist pastor in Dares village, along with nine of his family members, Bokkos County resident Dawzino Mallau told reporters. At least three other pastors also died in the attacks.

Days after the attacks, family members held a mass burial for many of the victims. Timothy Nwan, vice-president of the Church of Christ in Nations, gave the sermon at the funeral, in which he spoke against revenge.

“We are not going to use the physical weapon, do not use any weapon, but use the name of the Lord, through prayers and dedication,” he said.

Plateau state, in north-central Nigeria, has a history of religious and ethnic violence. Some armed Fulani herdsmen have targeted majority Christian farming communities, often resulting in a series of reprisal attacks. Elsewhere, Islamist insurgents continue to plague the country’s northeast, while armed militias operate from forests in the northwest, killing civilians and kidnapping people for ransom.

Senior military officials visited the region and pledged to deploy more security. Plateau Gov. Caleb Mutfwang called the attacks “pure terrorism” and repeated promises to bring the perpetrators to justice.

During the Monday march, the Rev. Stephen Panya Baba, vice president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, called for greater security deployment across the state. “The attackers and their sponsors have become more emboldened to continue in their satanic schemes while Christians are left in pain and sorrow,” he said.

The Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, who also runs a peace advocacy group in Plateau state, also attended the march. He said the march attendees released a 10-point peace agenda, including demanding prosecution against the perpetrators, humanitarian support for some of the 15,000 displaced people, and the establishment of a north-central development commission.

“This cycle of violence has gone on for too long,” he told me.

In the first week of the new year, residents in north-central Kaduna state said suspected Fulani attackers killed 41 Christians and abducted several others. On Jan. 5, suspected Islamist insurgents killed a church pastor and 13 other Christians in northeast Yobe state.

The killings have also drawn international attention, including from the United States. Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized the State Department’s exclusion of Nigeria from this year’s list of religious freedom violators. The list, released last week, includes Iran, Nicaragua, and China, among others.

USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick Davie told me the commission is pushing for a congressional hearing this month to address Nigeria’s absence from the list of countries of particular concern. The designation comes with diplomatic and economic sanctions.

“USCIRF rejects the State Department’s decision to omit Nigeria as a country of particular concern,” Davie said. “This violence around Christmas is only the latest deadly violence against religious communities in Nigeria.”

Back in Nigeria, Para-Mallam, the Plateau state pastor, said the situation is unlikely to get better without strong, proactive security responses. He describes the December attack as predictable harvest time targets, where insurgents repeatedly strike communities during festive periods.

“The government has to be very serious in rooting out these insurgents,” he said.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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