Nigerian mother of three Grace Godwin was preparing food on Christmas Eve when her husband burst into the kitchen and ordered her and the children to run and take shelter in the bush after armed men were spotted in a nearby village.
Soon, they heard gunshots. A multi-hour attack began by suspected nomadic herders who looted 15 villages in the central state of Plateau last Sunday (24), killing 140 people with firearms and machetes, authorities said.
It was the bloodiest episode of violence since at least 2018, when more than 200 people were killed in the central region of Africa’s most populous country, where clashes between herders and farmers are increasingly common.
“We came back at 6 the next morning and discovered that houses had been burned and people had been killed. There are still people missing,” Godwin said by telephone to Reuters. “There is no one in Mayanga [vila]women and children, all fled.”
It is still unclear what triggered Sunday’s attacks, but the violence in the region, known as the “Middle Belt”, is often characterized as ethno-religious — especially Muslim Fulani herdsmen clashing with Christian farmers.
Experts and politicians also say that climate change, the result of global warming resulting from human activity, and the expansion of agriculture are creating competition for land, leading farmers and pastoralists to increasingly frequent conflicts in Nigeria.
The nomadic cattle herders are from the north of the country, a region that is becoming drier. This is forcing them to move further south, where farmers are increasing production as the population expands rapidly. This means less land for nomads and their livestock, supporting the view that the conflict is based on resource availability rather than ethnic or religious differences.
“These attacks have been recurring. They want to expel us from our ancestral land, but we will continue to resist these attacks,” says Magit Macham, who had returned from the state capital, Jos, to celebrate Christmas with her family.
Macham was talking to his brother outside his home when the frequent sound of a gasoline generator was interrupted by gunshots. His brother was hit by a bullet in the leg, but Macham dragged him into the bush, where they hid during the night. “We were taken by surprise, and those who could ran into the bush. A good number of those who couldn’t were caught and killed with machetes.”
The governor of Plateau called the violence “without motive”, and police said several houses, cars and motorcycles were burned. President Bola Tinubu, elected in March in a continuity government and who has not yet explained how he intends to deal with the widespread security crisis, described the attacks as “primitive and cruel” and ordered the police to identify those responsible.