At least eight people were killed and five more injured in an attack on a tribal village in the Plateau state of north-central Nigeria on Sunday.
The attack, believed to be carried out by Fulani militia, took place as Nigerians were celebrating the 63rd anniversary of the nation’s independence.
The Du community of the Kwall District, part of the Rigwe Chiefdom, was the location of the attack. It houses the Irigwe, a tribal group living primarily in Plateau State in Nigeria.
Davidson Malison, the national press secretary for the Irigwe Development Association (IDA), confirmed the attack to journalists in Jos.
“The gunmen stormed the community…positioned and sprayed bullets on the bodies of innocent people while sleeping.”
The attack lasted for a number of minutes, he said, “until about eight people were killed, with about five people injured and currently receiving treatment at some undisclosed hospitals.”
Stressing that the Irigwe people are a peaceful tribe, Malison lamented that they are now “enveloped with tears.”
“The entire nation has been subjected to mourning and tears as a result of the senseless killings,” a witness to the violence, who requested to remain anonymous for safety, told The Pillar.
The Rigwe Traditional Council, the Irigwe Development Association (IDA) and the Irigwe Youth Movement (IYM) released a joint statement strongly condemning the killings.
The tribal leaders said they are “broken hearted” by news of the attack and pledged to work tirelessly to stop the bloodshed.
“This [killing] must stop,” they said.
“We can't continue allowing these marauders [to] continue unleashing mayhem in the land. Our ancestral land is God-given, and her people cannot be evicted and ejected. We will do everything possible to guard, secure and safeguard it and ensure it is passed to generations to come.”
Those who were killed range in age from 38 to 9, according to local media.
In their joint statement, the tribal leaders called on Plateau State Governor Barr Caleb Mutfwang to take immediate action by sending security forces to vulnerable communities, and to arrest those responsible for the attack.
“The people are known. They are not ghosts nor invisible. They had made threatening statements particularly to the community in question.”
At the same time, the tribal leaders appealed to the people “to remain peaceful and law-abiding citizens, as we are known, and increase surveillance and security consciousness with a view of reporting any irregular movement.”
Since February this year, suspected Fulani herders have razed dozens of houses and left scores of people homeless in coordinated attacks across the communities of Plateau State in north-central Nigeria. The attackers have taken over dozens of villages in the area, without government intervention.
The Fulani people are the largest nomadic tribal, or ethnic, group in the world. There are an estimated 25 million people of Fulani ethnicity, most of them Muslim. About half of them live in Nigeria, and many are nomadic herders.
Fulani herdsman are believed to be responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria’s Middle Belt alone, mostly in terror attacks committed against Christian farming communities, although non-Christian tribal communities such as the Irigwe people have also been targeted.
The motivation of these attacks has been a subject of debate among scholars in the West.
Recent agricultural growth in the country - including growth of the region’s Christian population - has cut off access to many traditional cattle migration routes and sources of water, which the Fulani say were once understood by custom to be protected spaces.
At the same time, Fulani herding groups have moved southward because of the desertification of their usual grazing lands, which is exacerbated by climate change.
Some scholars say there is also a religious component to the conflict.
Observers in the region say that Boko Haram and other Islamic militant groups have armed young Fulani men, framing economic and political disagreements as religious clashes, and urging more violence.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso, who leads the Kaduna archdiocese in the Middle Belt, told Aid to the Church in Need in 2022 that the conflict is not fundamentally a religious one, even while it has taken on religious overtones.
Catholic leaders in the country have lamented what they describe as a failure on the part of the state and national government to take action to prosecute the perpetrators. They have expressed hope that the new Nigerian government will take a stronger stance in prosecuting such attacks, which have left tens of thousands dead throughout the nation in the last 15 years.