Nigeria bishop: Pre-Christmas massacre part of ‘a deliberate plan to unleash evil’ against Christians

Nigeria Bishop Yakubu Kundi of the Diocese of Kafanchan, Nigeria. | Courtesy of Kafanchan Diocese

A Nigerian bishop has denounced “a deliberate plan to unleash evil” on Christian villagers following reports that dozens of people were killed in a violent attack Dec. 18 in Kaduna State.

“The motivation for these attacks as far as we know is that it’s a deliberate plan to unleash evil and to terrify our people because we do not profess the same religion or because we oppose their violent activities on our land,” Bishop Yakubu Kundi wrote in a text to CNA.

Kundi is the spiritual leader of the embattled Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan in southern Kaduna. The nighttime attack last week took place in and around the town of Mallagum.

Witnesses say a group of approximately 100 armed men dressed in army fatigues or black tunics arrived in Mallagum on motorcycles and trucks.

“At first we thought the military driving up and down the main street had come into town to provide security, since an attack had been rumored for days,” Emmanuel Allau Dominic, an eyewitness, told CNA in a text message.

Believing help had arrived, many residents surged toward the men, who opened fire, he said.

“Those running helter-skelter for help saw them and ran towards them, and that was the end of their journey on earth,” Dominic said. Media reports say as many as 46 people were killed in four villages over three days.

Thousands of other residents have been displaced from their homes because of the violence. While these people have received emergency supplies from the government, such as soup cubes and rice, those rations cannot last for very long, said Father Justin Dyikuk, a Catholic journalist from Jos who reported on the attack.

Bernard Biniyat, a medical technician in Mallagum, told CNA that the raid was foreshadowed by the killing of four farmers on Dec. 13 by herders of the Islamic Fulani tribe.

Biniyat said a local farmer, Cletus Dunia, confronted the men to object to their open grazing on his ripe bean crop. Dunia was hacked to death along with three other farmers in nearby fields, according to a press release of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union.

Gen. Timothy Opurum, commander of the forward operating base in Kafanchan, told CNA that the Dec. 18 attack in the Mallagum area was in reprisal by herders who believed that six members of their group were killed or captured after the Dec. 13 incident. There have been multiple cases of reprisal killings in recent months, he added.

“The Fulani people have called the cell phones of these six men, but none have answered,” the general said. “They want the men to be released from captivity or the bodies to be returned.”

Opurum, who commanded one of the military units that responded to the scene, also denied allegations that government soldiers allowed the killing and burning of homes to continue without firing against the attackers. The general said his soldiers killed or wounded some of the attackers but he believes their bodies were removed from the area to frustrate the authorities.

Protest calls out Nigerian president

The latest deadly raid in Kaduna came on the heels of a three-day summit of U.S. and African leaders in Washington, D.C., attended by Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari’s presence at the summit drew a group of a dozen protesters outside the U.S. Institute for Peace on Dec. 16. Inside, Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians, was evicted from the auditorium after waving a banner with the message “Stop Persecuting Christians.”

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“Nigerian President Buhari should never again share the world stage with President Biden and his peers in Africa,” Laugesen said afterward.

“Buhari has allowed and encouraged genocidal violence and religious persecution to rage across Nigeria’s northern and central states in his bid to see his own Fulani tribe to dominate Nigeria’s federal agencies, courts, and security services,” she added. 

Laugesen also criticized the U.S. State Department for not including Nigeria on its list of “countries of particular concern” for the second consecutive year, despite the unchecked raids on Christians in Nigeria.

“In failing to designate Nigeria once again as a country of particular concern due to its widespread and systematic religious-based violence — making it the most dangerous country in the world for Christians — the feckless U.S. State Department has given both Buhari and his henchmen a green light to continue its campaign to rid the northern and central states of its Christian communities through exile or extermination or both,” she said.

Back in Kaduna, the people of Mallagum are too traumatized to sing Christmas carols this year, Biniyat told CNA.

“The people are still weeping. The mood is tense,” he said.

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“We had hoped this Christmas would be better,” Bishop Kundi told CNA, “but this recent attack has dampened our spirits, and we are just trying to inspire people to hold up to the faith and be hopeful for an end to this calamity.”

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