This report contains graphic depictions of violence.
Violent attacks which began late Monday night have killed more than 100 people in nine northern Nigerian communities. And a coordinated terrorist blitz against villages in northern Nigeria remains ongoing, sources on the ground have told The Pillar.
Fulani herders razed houses in villages across the Mangu region of Plateau State, in northern Nigeria. Coordinated attacks in the last four months had left more than 200 dead in the region, before the violence this week added to that number.
On Wednesday, the herders continued attacking villages in the region, though the death count is not yet known.
The killings come amid years of violence in northern and central Nigeria, perpetrated by Muslim Fulani herding communities and Islamist terrorist groups, the victims are mostly Christian farming villages in the agricultural Middle Belt of north-central Nigeria.
In a statement after the May 16 attack, Solomon Maren, a lawmaker in Nigeria’s National Assembly, explained that most of those who died in the violence this week were women and children.
Maren urged Nigeria’s federal government to take seriously requests for increased security in the region.
“I urge the president to order the security agencies to move into the area with immediate effect to curb the killings, as well as for the National Emergency Management Authority and other well-spirited organizations to also move in with relief materials for the wounded and survivors of the dastardly act,” he said Tuesday.
Patrick Toholde, a regional councilor in the local Mangu government, told Nigerian media that before his constituents were attacked, “locals were going about with their normal businesses until yesterday morning.”
On Tuesday morning, he said, “they saw an influx of Fulani herdsmen from neighboring villages moving their cattle and belongings, then the resident Fulanis followed suit.”
The Fulani herders “went and camped between Washna and Kombili villages before launching the attack” on nine different communities, Tohold explained.
Government officials have said it is not clear what prompted the recent attacks, but Toholde explained that the violence was “deliberate, as it was well coordinated and executed despite security presence.”
Toholde added that even while the violence went on for hours, police were not immediately on the scene – a common criticism of law enforcement forces in the region, who are often accused of looking the other way during attacks on Christian villages.
“As a matter of fact, there was no rapid response as it took security agencies hours to respond to distress calls made to them by the local government authority,” Toholde said.
“Government is not on top of the situation as far as my assessment is concerned. They need to do more and be proactive in dealing with such situations.”
A middle-aged man from the affected Lighitlubang/Sabonlayi village told The Pillar that his brother, a local youth leader, was “shot by the Fulani militia” on Tuesday.
The man, who requested anonymity because he feared reprisal, said that his brother underwent emergency surgery at a nearby hospital. He emphasized the Christian villages of the Mangu region remain under attack, with no government intervention.
“As we speak … the community is on attack and no assistance has come to them,” he told The Pillar.
The local man described the violence as “a collaborated and calculated attack not only in my community but in the entire local government area by Fulani herdsmen.”
The Fulani, he said, who have attacked villages in the region frequently in recent weeks, aim at “chasing inhabitants from their ancestral lands [to] claim it.”
The ongoing violence in northern Nigeria has several causes: experts say that Fulani herding groups have tried to expand their grazing territory by pushing cattle herds south, and razing villages and farms which stand in their way.
Amid desertification of Nigeria’s north, nomadic herders have occupied more territory in the country’s crop-producing Middle Belt, amplifying tensions. And Islamist terror cells, which are believed to intimidate local governments in northern Nigeria, recruit from among the Islamic herding communities.
But the attacks have often distinctively religious elements, as Boko Haram and other terror groups in northern Nigeria have pushed for the imposition of Islamic-based law on Christian communities.
The recent attacks also come amid political transition in the region.
The local man who spoke with The Pillar lamented that Christian villages have seen little government protection from attacks.
“Rapid response is poor due to perhaps lack of manpower from the security agencies. I think there were overwhelmed by the Fulani militia,” he said.
“Government will always tell you they are on top of the situation; that's just in principle but in reality, it is, a no.”
“As a Christian - I think religious and traditional leaders have a huge role to play because they are closer to the people, but it also depends on how the government is using them to foster peace in these communities” said the local, who spoke in distress.
The Mangu region, a rural area roughly the size of Houston, Texas, is home to some 300,000 Nigerians.
Plateau state’s governor-elect, Caleb Mutfwang, has said that much of the violence in the region is conducted by foreign mercenaries, and that the violence has a “lot to do with land-grabbing.”
Attacks have “a lot to do with demarketing” land in the area, he said, making it easier for Fulani herders to use it for grazing.
But Mutfwang has also described violence in the area as “ethnic cleansing.”
More than 50,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed since 2009, and millions more have been displaced from their homes and villages.