Inside Nigeria’s Unreported Terror: Snapshots of Havoc and Hope
[Pastor Sale surveys the ruins of his burned church in the small Christian village of Ninte after Islamic extremists among Fulani herdsmen ravaged and burned the community.]
“The farther we traveled in northern Nigeria, the more we witnessed village after village eerily deserted: homes burnt down and churches left with not one brick on the other. Christian literature was kindling for many arson attacks.”
The scenes in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region capture the same picture that Open Doors team workers continue to encounter each time they visit northern Nigeria and see the devastation left from deadly attacks by Muslim Fulani militants. Over the past year alone, hundreds of people have been killed in the latest spike in Fulani unrest. More than 50 villages have been attacked and burned—the men in the village violently murdered; the women and children kidnapped, raped and also killed. However, unlike the Boko Haram insurgency, the Fulani militant violence has gone relatively unreported
Below, we meet and hear from Nigerian believers as they share with us what’s happening in their West African villages where for years they’ve worked the land. Some are still questioning their next steps, mired in unexpected grief. Others are forging ahead with intention, determined to rebuild their lives and communities … All have been deeply affected by this violence that has claimed thousands of lives.
Sarah Bitrus stares into space. The 16-year-old’s forehead bears the scar of a large cut—a visible reminder of the emotional wounds she carries.
“My sister and I went to the farm to do some weeding. Fulani men were around our farm. When we saw them come closer, we ran away. But they followed us.
“They killed my sister,” she says quietly. “I lay still on the ground bleeding. They thought I was dead. When I couldn’t see them anymore, I began to scream, and a Good Samaritan came to my aid and rushed me to the hospital.”
But that wouldn’t be the last Sarah would see of the Fulani militants. Again, persecution invaded the young girl’s life:
“Some months later when it was time for us to harvest our crops, my dad went to the farm alone. Later that evening, some villagers brought his body to me. He was also butchered by the Fulani men. Since then, I have feared being killed. So I had to leave my village and stay with my aunt in another community.”
Sale serves as a pastor in the village of Ninte in southern Kaduna State. In June 2016, Fulani militants stormed his small village, setting fire to everything in their path, demolishing everything that wouldn’t burn. Below, he shares about the night the militants came:
“We have seen them with our own eyes (groups of militants often attack at night when they can’t be seen),” he says. “With the help of God, we were able to hide ourselves. They burned everything and ran away. We couldn’t save anything from the church.”
More than a year later, Pastor Sale’s home is still in ruins. But because his family and the other villagers have nowhere else to go, they have returned to Ninte and to what is left of their homes.
“We hope God will bring peace. This is the land where we are born. Nothing can make us leave it.”
@realDonaldTrump, in your April 30 meeting w/ President Buhari, pls raise Fulani militant herdsmen violence in northern Nigeria. In the last year, 50 Christian villages have been destroyed & thousands are dead. Praying 4 you... #pray4Nigeria Click To TweetHaussan Jatau, the village chief, explains the current living conditions of Ninte’s residents after the attack:
“We all have to sleep in the few houses that are still good. Two, three, four, five people must share a very small room. When it rains, we take shelter together in these rooms. Sometimes there are 10 people in one room. There are not enough places to sleep.”
Jummai, also from Ninte and one of the elderly women in the village, explains what life these days is like for her and those who have returned: “When evening comes, we start to worry if the enemy will come [back] during the night. When it is still afternoon, we are happy. But when night comes, we don’t know what might happen to us. Every morning, I think God for His protection. We slept in the night, not knowing what we would see the next day. But then His power awakened us. So then I tell Him: Thank you. ”
Lazarus Gagare fled when militants attacked, but now he, too, has returned with nowhere else to go.
The major prayer request we have now is that we need food to eat. There is nothing now. They have stolen all our animals and possessions. We now need prayers, so that God brings a solution to us in the situation where we are now.”
Yusuf Bawa serves as secretary of ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All), the largest Protestant denomination in Nigeria, 6,000 churches strong. Yusuf remembers when Fulani militants attacked his village.
“It rained that night. We didn’t know what was taking place until the Fulani came with their sophisticated weapons and surrounded the village—at night and before our people knew it, they had to run for their lives. Any Muslim house, they would never tamper with. But any house that belongs to Christians, they are the houses that they normally destroy.”
Daniel Akai, district head of a village attacked by Fulani militants in November 2017, remembers the deadly day his community lost numerous residents.
“We lost up to 15 people in the village that day,” he says, showing the charred remains of his house that militants destroyed in the attack.
“This is my house … There is not a single thing that we carried out from it … By 2 o’clock pm, they came en masse, over 300 people. Almost all of them carry AK-47s. So everyone had to run away. We just left.”
Daniel echoes Bawa that Fulani militant attacks are driven by both resource disputes and religion.
“They attack mostly Christians—where there are Christian-dominated areas. That is why, you see, they burn our churches. But there is not any mosque that burned down. But all the [Christian] churches are burned down.”
Mary Lumumba also lost her home in a Fulani militants attack.
“My house was totally burned down in the Fulani crisis,” she says, adding that she is now destitute. “I have been going from house to house begging for a bowl of corn to feed my children, but today I am given 100 kg of maize all to myself, God indeed is faithful. May God bless every pocket that gave to see that we are being helped.”
Jerry Datim, a pastor with the Church of Christ in Nigeria, shares about when the villages of Rafiki and Jebbu Bassa in Plateau State were ravaged in January 2018.
“The first attack took place on January 24. It was about 12 noon when some Fulani men laid an ambush around Rafiki. They killed three people there before moving on to Jebbu Bassa, where they also killed three people. They burned down a lot of properties.”
Throughout the next week, militants continued the killing spree, unchallenged, he says.
On March 8, six people were killed in Ganda village in Daffo District in Bokkos, one of the 17 Local Government areas in Plateau State.
Jerry Datim, a pastor with the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), initially confirmed that six were killed and others wounded in the “unprovoked” attack, adding that some were still missing. He later said four more bodies were found in the nearby bush, bringing the death toll to 10, while more than 50 houses were burnt and several people injured and rushed to a hospital.
Matawal Mangut, a resident of Ganda village, lost five relatives in the attack. His house was also burned to the ground.
“Everything we ever worked for is completely gone,” he says.
For many of the women living in these now desolate communities, life is forever changed. Fulani militants often target the men, leaving in their wake grieving and financially destitute widows.
“The Fulani killed my husband,” says Saratu, holding her few-weeks-old baby girl on her lap. “They burned my house, all of it. There isn’t anything I was able to carry from it. We have nothing left. I have a baby that is very young. I need help.”
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 on December 4, 2017. Hanatu remembers the day news of the impending attack spread through her once peaceful village. A few days before the militants arrived, Hanatu’s husband Andu told his wife to take their five children to a nearby village while he stayed. He died trying to defend their family’s home. Now Hanatu, a leader in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, is taking courageous steps to rebuild her life and her village. The 46-year-old church leader and widow has returned 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.Inspired by Hanatu who's rebuilding her life after violent Fulani militants attacked her village & killed her husband: 'l returned so that other women will be encouraged to do the same. We can’t desert our ancestral homes.' #Fulanimilitants Click To Tweet
“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. It will take our communities more than 20 years to recover from these traumatic experiences.”
Whether they have found refuge in informal internal displacement camps or with family and friends in other villages or returned to their villages, circumstances are difficult for anyone and everyone in the devastating attacks.
In June 2016, Martina Joseph Kura and her seven children lost their husband and father who was killed in a Fulani attack. He was the pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All in Obi, Nassarawa State and chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Suspected Fulani herders brutally murdered him while he was working on his farm and left his mutilated body.
“I will forever remember June 30 as the day I lost my best friend,” Martina says. “After Joseph’s death, life became very hard for us, and we decided to go back to our home in Kaduna where Joseph was from. “On our arrival, we discovered that all the houses in the village had been destroyed by the Fulani. We weren’t even able to trace our relatives. We thought the best thing to do was to return to Obi. But when we got here, we found that the new pastor had already moved into the pastorium. We had nowhere to go, so our only solution was to move into this uncompleted building.”
The place they occupy is a one-roomed hut with maize storks that serve as the roof. Inside, there is no furniture at all. They have stacked pots, plates, boxes and grains against one wall.
“Amid all of this, God has been faithful,” Martina says. “Four of my children are in higher education thanks to your help. I can remember when two of my girls got admission this year, they kept crying to God to remember His promise to the fatherless; and God indeed remembered us because He sent Open Doors our way. They assisted me with money to pay their school fees. This act of love has strengthened the faith of my family.”
To help support believers as they return home to their decimated villages, Open Doors and our on-the-ground partners in Nigeria are coming alongside thousands of Christians like Sarah, Sale, Daniel, Saratu and Hanatu targeted by Fulani and Boko Haram militants. Open Doors is providing services like medical clinics, boreholes (for clean water) and schools, as well as crisis relief, including food distribution, 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.