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Officials in Nigeria Portray Slaughter of Christian Family as Result of 'Cattle Theft'

Officials in Nigeria Portray Slaughter of Christian Family as Result of 'Cattle Theft'

BAKIN KOGI FORON, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 10 Christians in three villages in this area in Plateau state last week in what authorities called a cattle-rustling attempt, but a visit to the home where eight members of one family were killed revealed the presence of no cows.

A state official was quick to deny that the attack was rooted in the ethno-religious violence that has convulsed the state, and military officials asserted that security forces recovered 20 cows and killed five of the rustlers in thwarting an attempted theft, but a Morning Star News reporter found no evidence of cattle ownership at the home in Kukyek village where eight family members were slain in the wee hours of Oct. 10.

The ethnic Fulani Muslims also attacked the villages of Zatsitsa-Kudeson and Chehwyanang, also in the Bakin Kogi Foron area of Barkin Ladi Local Government Area in central Nigeria, killing two other Christians, sources said. Nigerian newspaper reports erroneously identifying the names of villages and victims and describing the raid as an incident of “cattle rustling” in which residents supposedly engaged the assailants in gun-battle, were speculative and not based on facts obtained first-hand, local Christians told Morning Star News.

Yohanna Kpagyang, killed along with his wife, son and grandchildren. (Morning Star News)Among the eight killed in Kukyek by heavily armed, ethnic Fulani Muslims were two girls, 10-year-old Dorothy Luka Kpagyang and 6-year-old Hope Luka Kpagyang, their uncle, Daniel Yohanna Kpagyang, told Morning Star News. Also shot to death in their home were his son, father, mother and brother, the 48-year-old Kpagyang said.

“These Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacking Christians should know that death is not an exclusive preserve for Christians,” Kpagyang said. “They too will die one day and will stand before the almighty God to account for their crimes against the innocent Christians they attack and kill at will. My advice to them is that they need to repent of these crimes against the church and embrace Jesus, the Christ.”

Kpagyang said his son, Shadrach Daniel Kpagyang, was 21; his son’s wife, Joyce Shadrach Kpagyang, was 20; his father, Yohanna Kpagyang, was 80; his mother, Vou Yohanna Kpagyang, was 70; his two slain girls belonged to his brother, Luka Yohanna Kpagyang, who was 35, and his brother’s wife, Laraba Luka Kpagyang, who was 30.

The family members were all members of the local congregation of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Kukyek village.

“The gunmen are Muslims – they are Fulani herdsmen,” Kpagyang said. “They got here at about 3:45 on Thursday morning, broke into our rooms in this compound, and killed eight of our family members.”

Two other family members, Kpagyang said, were injured in the assault: Lovina Luka Kpagyang, 8, whose father, Luka Yohanna Kpagyang, and mother, Laraba Luka Kpagyang, were killed; and Jaconiah Shadrach Kpagyang, 7 months old, orphaned after the killing of Shadrach Daniel Kpagyang and Joyce Shadrach Kpagyang.

Kpagyang said the Muslim Fulani gunmen first attacked Zatsitsa-Kudeson village, about five kilometers (three miles) away from Kukyek, at about 11 p.m. the previous night before attacking his village and one other in the early hours of Oct. 10. In Zatsitsa-Kudeson, the gunmen killed Sati Yaro, 55, and injured two others – Bitrus Sati Yaro, 25, and Istifanus Sunday, 23, he said. In the third village, Chehwyanang, the 10th Christian killed was Nuhu Pam Hwyere, 60, he said.

State and military officials were eager to tamp down publicity on the religious motive of the attacks, with Special Task Force (STF) Commander Maj. Gen. David Enetie saying the assailants were mere cattle rustlers. Enetie praised the STF units that reportedly killed five of the attackers for their rapid response, but villagers told Morning Star News that the forces arrived at 8 a.m., nine hours after the assaults began.

“These Fulani herdsmen were here attacking our people from 11-o’clock on Wednesday night to 8 o’clock the following morning, without any help coming from security agencies,” said Gyang Victor Bala, 23, of Bakin Kogi Foron village, about 20 kilometers (13 miles) from Jos.

“The soldiers and mobile policemen only got here around 8 in the morning when the Muslim Fulani herdsmen had retreated,” added Michael Abashi, 27. “Our people were helpless as the Muslims were armed with guns and heavy-duty weapons.”

Vigilantes from outside the area arrived after the attacks and confronted the approximately 30 assailants as they retreated, killing some of them, villagers said, but none of the area residents killed any of the 10 to 12 gunmen reported to have died. Villagers told Morning Star News that the STF units arrived and also went after the assailants as they were retreating toward Bauchi state, and it was then that they killed the five herdsmen reported by the STF.

Habila Chundusu, a 60-year-old elder with the Kukyek COCIN congregation, decried incessant attacks on defenseless Christians in the rural areas of Plateau State by Muslim Fulani herdsmen.

“The 10 killed are members of our church,” he said. “In addition, three other Christians who heard distressed cries and rushed to the attacked villages to assist Christian victims were shot and injured by the Muslim attackers. The injured Christians who sustained bullet wounds are Markus Yohanna Tsok, 30; Bot Ibrahim Wash, 25; and, Gwom Luka Wash, 30. All of them are at the Plateau Specialist Hospital in the city of Jos.”

Chundusu called on the Nigerian government to put a halt to the attacks.

“We call on our Christian brethren to stand in the gap for us – we need God’s intervention in this country, particularly, in northern Nigeria, where Christians are being attacked without provocation,” he said.

Christians believe Islamic extremist groups have increasingly incited Fulani Muslims to attack them in Plateau state as well as in Kaduna, Bauchi, Nasarawa and Benue states. They fear that Fulani herdsmen, with backing from Islamic extremist groups, want to take over the predominantly Christian areas in order to acquire land for grazing, stockpile arms and expand Islamic territory.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.

Muslim gunmen have carried out eight attacks on the Bakin Kogi Foron villages in the past two years, Chundusu added. Attacked villages include Pwogyes village in September, Pandachi village in August, Rebet and Kirka villages in July, Gwom Jang village in May, Kangrarap village in 2012, and Zakukpang and Dorong villages in 2011, he said.

c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.

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Publication date: October 18, 2013