The governor of Plateau, Nigeria, denounced on Tuesday, in response to the massacre of at least 160 people during the Christmas weekend, the continuous, long-term occupation of at least 64 Christian communities in his state by presumed Islamist terrorists.
“When people are dislocated from their villages and they have to run for shelter … if they stay away from those communities for a sustained period of time, the terrorists would come in,” Governor Celeb Mutfwang told the Nigerian outlet Channels TV on Tuesday, according to the newspaper Daily Trust. “As I am talking to you today (Tuesday), in Riyom Local Government, in Barikin Ladi Local Government, schools have been occupied by these terrorists for almost a number of years now.”
“We have not less than 64 communities that have been displaced and their lands have been taken over by these terrorists,” he said.
“I can tell you these schools that are being occupied, it didn’t just start now, some of those schools have been occupied in the last three, four, five years,” he continued. “Children therefore in those schools have not been able to go to school, they have to relocate, we even have primary health care centres abandoned because of these terrorists which means that our health care system is put in jeopardy.”
Mutfwang lamented the perception that the Nigerian federal government in Abuja, which has been Muslim-led since 2015, has no interest in protecting Christians.
“Under the last regime [of former President Muhammadu Buhari] the feeling among people in Plateau State, particularly the victims of these terrorist attacks, is that it looks as if the terrorists were given official government backing to be able to terrorise them,” the governor denounced, “because little or nothing was done to repel these attacks.”
Current President Bola Tinubu was Buhari’s hand-chosen successor, taking office in early 2023 following a contentious election in which three candidates declared victory simultaneously.
Nigerian news outlets reported on Tuesday that local officials in Plateau had confirmed the deaths of at least 160 people and over 300 injured in a series of attacks beginning on Saturday by assailants described as “gunmen” or “bandits,” targeting at least 18 villages and destroying residences and community sites. According to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard, initial reports of a targeted assault began to surface on Saturday and “gunfire could still be heard on late Monday afternoon throughout the state.”
Local government official Monday Kassah told reporters on Monday that authorities believe the Plateau slaughters were “well coordinated,” despite media descriptions of the assailants as “bandits.” In reality, the groups terrorizing Christians in the Middle Belt are more often than not organized jihadist terror gangs belonging to the Fulani ethnic community.
“People were even warned not to say they are Fulani herdsmen who have been causing these atrocities such that when you open the general media they are talking about bandits – bandits or they say ‘unknown gunmen’ or things like that,” Father Remigius Ihyula, a university chaplain and emergency relief coordinator in the Diocese of Makurdi, told Breitbart News in July, “so you read about bandits. It’s rubbish: they are Fulani men going about with cattle and with guns and killing people and the government won’t do anything about it.”
Ihyula serves a diocese in Benue, where jihadist attacks have displaced an estimated 2 million Christians as of 2022. Benue is a majority-Christian state.
The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard identified the terrorists as Fulani.
“Recall that from December 23 to Christmas Day, coordinated attacks were carried out by persons who survivors say are Fulani herders,” Vanguard reported. “Apart from the killing of over 100 persons in the communities affected, property worth millions of naira has also been destroyed and hundreds of people have been displaced.”
“Our village has been completely razed down by Fulani; my uncle, known by everyone as Baba Pray, was murdered in the church, and the village has been deserted,” a victim identified as Israel James told Vanguard.
The Fulani are a majority Muslim ethnic group, one of the largest in Nigeria. Fulani terrorist militias have waged jihad against the Christian communities of Nigeria’s Middle Belt – the states that form the border between the majority Muslim north and majority Christian south – for decades, committing acts of genocide and occupying Christian land left by the dead and displaced.
The Nigerian government has historically done little to protect Christian communities from Fulani terrorists; federal officials initially announced the death toll of the Christmas attacks in Plateau to be just 16 people.
“Fundamentalist Muslims are in control of all the security organs of State including the police, the military, and intel agencies,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern (ICC), explained to Breitbart News in December. “Fundamentalist Muslim actors embedded in the security apparatus of the Nigerian State in Nigeria have aided and abetted the Muslim Fulani’s slow-moving anti-Christian genocide and/or jihad for two decades now.”
In Plateau, Vanguard lamented in 2018 that jihadist mass killings had become “a regular occurrence” with no interruption by the federal government, illustrating “how worthless life has become in Nigeria.” In March 2022, the Coalition for Minority Rights, an advocacy group, documented 625 “bandit attacks” on Plateau civilians since 2001, likely an undercount given the remote locations of many communities. Daily Trust documented another 27 attacks in Plateau between January and June 2023.