After Deadly Fulani Attack, Nigerian Widow Takes Courageous Steps to Rebuild Her Life and Church
"I returned to encourage other women to do the same."
Four months ago, Hanatu Solomon became a young widow when her village, Shaforon in Northeast Nigeria’s Adamawa state, was attacked by Muslim Fulani militants last year on December 4.
Hanatu remembers the day news of the impending attack spread through her once peaceful village. Based on previous attacks in surrounding villages, she and the other villagers knew these militants would destroy everything and everyone in their path. Razing villages and brutal violence have become the extremists’ calling card.
A few days before the militants arrived, Hanatu’s husband Andu told his wife to take their five children to nearby Numan. They would be safe there, he assured her, surrounded by others who also had left their homes.
Audu stayed. He died trying to defend their family’s home.
When the militants attacked, the Nigerian Air Force dropped bombs on Shaforon and the nearby villages of Lawaru, Dong, Nzoruwe, Pulum, and Kodomon. Andu sustained injuries from one explosion and was transported to the hospital in Numan. He died three days later.
“A good man was killed just like that, without anything done to his killers,” Hanatu says of her husband and the injustice that typically accompanies Fulani violence.
Leadership by example
Now Hanatu, a leader in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, is taking courageous steps to rebuild her life and her village. For the 46-year-old church leader and widow, rebuilding means returning to her decimated home.
“Leadership is by example,” she says. “l returned so that other women will be encouraged to do the same. We can’t desert our ancestral homes simply because we have been attacked–that will give our enemies victory over us.”
Hanatu is one of one of many women who has lost her husband in Fulani attacks. She is one of few women, and even fewer men, to have returned to her village. After the December 4 attack, any residents who had stayed in the village fled to Numan and the state capital of Yola. Shaforon is all but deserted.
“When will the killing stop?” she says. “It’s either Boko Haram insurgents or herdsmen killing our people, [who] are mostly Christians,” she says. “Many Christian women have lost their husbands. Our children cannot go to school again when our husbands, the breadwinners, have been massacred.”
Attempts to wipe out generations of Christians
A now single parent of five, Solomon says the government seems unwilling to tackle the herdsmen, despite the brutality of the attacks.
“When the herdsmen launch an attack on our villages, most of the Christian women are raped,” she explains. “Some of these women feel they must hide out of disgrace; other women become pregnant from the attackers.
“I believe these gruesome killings of the men by the herdsmen are attempts to wipe out generations of Christians. If a man is not alive to get a woman pregnant, his lineage will not continue.”
Hanatu is typical of the many women who lost husbands in the December 4 attack on Shaforon, or in the many other attacks by Fulani militants and Boko Haram insurgents across Nigeria. In this area, widows regularly face pain, sorrow and hunger each day. In fact, many have been forced to desert their homes because their houses and livelihoods have been completely destroyed.
These Fulani militants are extremist Muslims, who believe that everything first belongs to their god, Allah. As climate change and environmental factors force these militant herdsmen south, they come into contact and conflict with the large pockets of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
Hanatu’s family and those in her village and other villages in this Northern Nigeria were grain farmers, growing food for the whole country. Typically, the militants have found a reason to be angry at a particular village and involved the local Muslim population in the area–inciting them to raze Christian villages the militant herdsmen use as grazing land.
More than 20 Years to Recover
Shaforon is now barely fit to live in after the brutal attack. The militants came to Shaforon heavily armed with sophisticated weapons, including machine guns, a local resident told World Watch Monitor. They reportedly killed two heads of the village and set houses, churches and properties on fire, destroying everything in their path. Other reports suggest that militants raped young girls aged 12 to 14.
The human carnage and corpses left in the wake of the brutal attack have reportedly contaminated drinking water sources. Farming equipment is destroyed. The few remaining villagers are starving, and they fear an outbreak of cholera if aid does not arrive soon.
According to the Nigeria-based International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, 3,750 people have died at the hands of Fulani militants since 2015, when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari–himself a Fulani–assumed office. In the last year, more than 50 villages have been attacked in the last 12 months, leaving hundreds of families mourning and hundreds of homes destroyed.
More recently, in March 2018, 57 deaths were blamed on a two-week killing spree in Nigeria’s Middle Belt by Fulani extremists.
“It will take our communities more than 20 years to recover from these traumatic experiences,” Hanatu says. adding that she is also concerned about the ongoing “Islamization” of Nigeria.
Open Doors and our on-the-ground partners in Nigeria are coming alongside Christians like Hanatu Solomon targeted by Fulani and Boko Haram militants to help support believers as they return home to their decimated villages. Open Doors is providing services like medical clinics, boreholes (for clean water) and schools, as well as crisis relief for those forced to flee their communities. We’re also training churches to help them equip Christians to respond to persecution and stand strong in their faith through discipleship training.
Large photo features Hanatu Solomon with one of her daughters.