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'We must keep awake' - Nigerians mourn 40 killed in terror attack

More than 40 people were killed in a Dec. 19 terror attack in Nigeria -- the youngest victim was two years old.

Mourners grieve after a Dec. 19 terror attack in Kaduna State, Nigeria killed 40 people. Credit: Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan.

Days before Christmas, Christians in Nigeria buried 40 people killed in terror attacks in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, where several villages have been attacked this month by suspected terrorists from the Fulani tribe of northern Nigeria.

At a Dec. 22 interdenominational memorial service, mourners were encouraged to take defensive measures against a years-long spate of terrorism and violence in the largely Christian farming communities of northern and central Nigeria – especially as government security officials have been criticized for failing to prevent terrorist attacks.

At the open-air prayer service ceremony, Fr. Benjamin Bala exhorted Nigerians to “be ready in ... 'Holy anger,' to respond to the natural sense for self-preservation which is also both divine and constitutional.”

“This requires us to do all within the law and our faith to and protect our lives. In Genesis 9:5, God says he will demand an account of every life; beast and man from us. Yes, God is our refuge and protector. But we must cooperate with him at all times to keep us safe and secure,” the priest said.

“These are indeed trying times for us. We cannot afford to be asleep. We must keep awake. We must not allow ourselves to give in to the antics of our attackers. Let us not allow them to push us into doing things that are unlawful and acting against our Christian faith. Our faith teaches us to constantly pray and watch.”

The caskets of Nigerians killed during a Dec. 19 terror attack are loaded onto a flatbed truck after a Dec. 22 memorial prayer service. Credit: Diocese of Kafanchan.

Bala led Christians in prayers as they prepared to bury 40 victims killed in Dec. 18-19 terror attacks, which saw hundreds of houses in two villages burned or destroyed, and extensive damage to agricultural equipment and crops.

The 40 victims include 33 men and boys, and 7 women and girls of several Christian traditions: 22 Catholics, 16 Evangelicals, and 2 Baptists.

The youngest victim of the terror attacks was two years old. The oldest was 65. Among the dead were 6 members of one family - father, mother and four children.

The victims were part of Malagum 1 and Sakong village communities in the southern part of the Kaduna state.

Caskets bear the names of those Nigerians killed in a Dec. 19 terror attack. Credit: Diocese of Kafanchan.

Bala, a lecturer at the Catholic University of West Africa, said the attacks should call young people to greater vigilance against the prospect of violence.

“The situation where some of our young people, in these perilous times, insist on excessive drinking, getting drunk and losing their sanity, and talking carelessly, instead of being watchful is very disappointing. Such young people should emulate the courage of the others who keep their sanity, pray and watch,” the priest said.

Bala also reminded various local leaders to take responsibility for widespread violence the Nigerian state, and urged that reforms would save both lives and property in the region.

Nigerians survey fire damage after a Dec. 19 terror attack on villages in the country's Kaduna State. Credit: Diocese of Kafanchan.

Some local Church and village leaders in Kaduna have complained that Dec. 11 -13 terror attacks in the same region could have been thwarted if local law enforcement officials had taken seriously reports that unknown groups were camping outside of Kaduna villages in early December.

Still, Bala urged locals to continue reporting threats to security agencies, with the expectation that local officials - seen as unwilling to stand up against the politically powerful Fulani factions in northern Nigeria - will eventually be forced to act.

Bala said he understood that many Nigerians are skeptical government leaders are working to stop ongoing terrorist attacks in Nigeria, or willing to arrest the politically-connected figures associated with terrorists.

“The brutality, terrorism and devastation their innocent citizens are passing through,” the priest said.

“A lot of citizens feel the government is not doing enough to protect them. Hence, many are losing hope in government. The people are disappointed that attacks have been carried out over the years and none of the attackers have been arrested,” Bala explained.

“It is very disappointing then, hearing government [leaders], with all the paraphernalia of power and coercion, speaking like ordinary citizens by only merely condemning killings instead of going after the killers. Sometimes, what we see is the contradiction of those in government, deploying their powers on weak citizens.”

“Those in government must rise and act, to prove themselves and avoid allowing the nation to descend into total anarchy,” the priest urged.

Mourners grieve after a Dec. 19 terror attack in Kaduna State, Nigeria killed 40 people. Credit: Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan.

Fr. Bala tasked traditional tribal leaders and security agencies to do their work, while he praised “the gallant and courageous security personnel, especially those policemen, whose intervention saved further destruction of lives and property [Dec. 19].”

The priest had an eternal warning for terrorist factions:

“Unless they repent, their end shall be sorrowful. Let them check history. Never has evil ever triumphed over good. Those they are afflicting now will laugh last and longer. Jesus says, 'Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep' (Luke 6:25).”

Turning to those who collude with mercenaries – especially political leaders in northern Nigeria - he said,  “I plead with such suspected betrayers to have a rethink and repent. They need to realize that the justice of God awaits them.”

After the attacks, one local Nigerian told The Pillar that around 11 pm on Dec. 18, rampaging Fulani terrorists invaded villages and unleashed terror, using AK-47s machine guns and other weapons of mass destruction.

Ammunition and shell casings recovered after a Dec. 19 terrorist attack in Kaduna State, Nigeria. Credit: Diocese of Kafanchan.

Casings recovered from the attack suggest that the terrorists had access to a cache of military grade weapons.

Another eyewitness recalled that people were gathered Dec. 18 to pray, as they grieved other terrorist attacks in the region this month, when they began hearing sounds of gunshots.

"We made efforts to contact security agents. After one or two calls however, the network became inaccessible. Within a few minutes, many houses were on flames as we could hear helpless people who were trapped, crying for help that did not come until their voices went silent in painful death.

"That night, one could hear the land of Malagum, as in Bethlehem and Ramah, wailing and lamenting in anguish, over her innocent children being massacred,” a witness recalled.

“We stood looking at the horror helplessly hoping some assistance would come from somewhere.”

"After some time, we noticed a strange movement from the primary school towards the Catholic mission where we were, and there came a dangerous loud sound of a highly sophisticated gun at a close range, presumably an AK-47.”

The victim explained that “we were in danger and had to scamper for safety. After being in hiding for some stretch of time - which felt longer than 40 days and 40 nights - help finally came with the arrival of some courageous gallant police personnel whose counter shots and movement towards the attackers made them start retreating."

According to the eyewitness, "by the next day, Monday, Dec. 19, the destruction was massive — not fewer than 40 people were killed, many were injured, over 102 houses and harvested grains were burnt down, and many were displaced.

“The attack was well-coordinated and executed simultaneously across the affected villages. Shells of ammunition picked on the ground of the attack look the size of machine gun bullets. In this attack, about six families were entirely wiped out,” the eyewitness explained.

“I say this not to whip up sentiments — but for all of us … to appreciate the enormity of what really happened in the attack. And it is worthy of mention that this attack is coming about two weeks after another attack was carried out on the same Malagum community.”

The eyewitness was at the same Malagum Parish on Sep. 26, 2021, when the Madamai and Abun communities were attacked, after an earlier attack on Aug. 15, which claimed 43 lives.

Bishop Julius Yakubu Kundi of Kafanchan at a Dec. 22 prayer service. Credit: Diocese of Kafanchan.

After the Dec. 19 attacks, Fr. Fred Simon Byat  of the Kaduna archdiocese, took to his social media handle to lament: “Oh God, we still cry to you on bended knees, speedily come to our aid.”

The priest condemned what he called “the ineptitude and gross failure of the government of the day in protecting lives and properties in Southern Kaduna has resulted in horrible blood spillage and rivers of blood. It is indeed lamentable and a gory sight, seeing how children are now orphans, husbands are now widowers, wives are now widows and even families are completely wiped out.”

According to him, “our vulnerability in Southern Kaduna is on the increase, as we continue to suffer abandonment by the government, hence leading to our incessant attacks. While we hope to feel the presence of the government via the execution of meaningful projects in southern Kaduna, on the contrary, all that we can now see is the project of rivers of blood being systematically executed.”

For his part, Fr. Williams Abbah of the Kafanchan diocese urged candor about violence in Nigeria:

“Call it by its name, it is genocide,” the priest wrote online last week.

Abbah asked why “not even one of the perpetrators of these dastardly acts is arrested?”  

Terrorists  “have evaded the police and military dotting our landscape. They are above accountability. They are too powerful and well organized. They are their own government,” he added.

Urging Nigeria's government to live to its commitment of securing lives and property, Abbah underlined: “We demand accountability from government. We call on well-meaning Nigerians, civil organizations, and international bodies to prevail on government to end the carnage going on in Southern Kaduna. It's been over a decade of bloodletting.”

At the Dec. 22 prayer service, Fr. Bala called for God’s intervention in Nigeria.

The homilist seized the occasion to urge mourners "to ask God to grant his consolation and healing to the immediate members of the families who were affected directly, and indeed, all of us, who are anguished by this sad situation."

The lecturer recalled that “One could hear the attackers jubilantly chanting as they shot and killed innocent people and burnt houses. It was clear that the sadness, sorrow and tears of their innocent victims excited them. They have done this over and over and got away with it. In this kind of situation, we are tempted to ask like the Psalmist: ‘How long, O Lord, shall the wicked rejoice?’”

Offering more words of consolation, Bala noted that, “beloved friends, in our pain and sorrow today, God invites us and offers us his consolation.”

On an ecumenical note, the preacher urged for the unity of Christians in the face of the evil that is consuming all.

“In the spirit of our common humanity, it is time for us to hold each other as brothers and sisters in solidarity. Let us make efforts to narrow our religious and denominational gaps, tribal, regional and ethnic differences and embrace one another. Let us love one another, let us be humble, readily forgive each other’s faults and be united.”

“Let us stop all the unnecessary bickering and love one another genuinely. This is what befits our lives especially as Christians. We do not need to wait until misfortunes befall us before we jump into holding each other closely. Together we shall overcome this,” he said.

Bala also used the occasion to remind Catholics that the 2023 general elections “offer us an opportunity to use our thumbs to bring Nigeria out of this distress. Each of us must collect his/her Permanent Voters Card and vote for individuals who can reverse the ugly trends in our country.”

“Next year’s elections are not about party but capable candidates. Let us not use our thumbs to vote for those who will perpetuate our suffering and then we turn back and start disturbing God in prayer.”

The mourning ceremony drew thousands, and was attended by Bishop Julius Yakubu Kundi of Kafanchan, and pastors of Evangelical Church Winning All, local Baptist churches, traditional leaders and other prominent elders of southern Kaduna, who came our en masse to pay their last respects to their loved ones.

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