Just a few days ago, the inhabitants of the communities in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local government areas of Plateau, which had recently experienced attacks, could not have imagined that they would be unable to enjoy this year's Christmas with their loved ones in tranquility. Many had already commenced their festive celebrations in anticipation.
The attacks occurred at a time when residents were preparing to celebrate the year’s Christmas, and these renewed incidents have cast a shadow over the Christmas festivities, not only in the affected communities but also across the state, revealing a sombre atmosphere considering the lives and properties lost in the incident.
According to Daily Trust, Monday Kassah, the Transition Committee Chairman of Bokkos LGA, Thursday in Bokkos disclosed that the attacks which took place between Saturday night and Monday morning, claimed 148 lives, including women and children, leaving hundreds injured.
In an address during a condolence visit by Vice President Kashim Shettima to the family members in the affected communities, Kassah said 1,290 houses, 82 vehicles and 187 motorcycles were burned in the 25 communities that were attacked.
While narrating their ordeals at the Central Stadium Bokkos, where the IDPs are temporarily seeking refuge, there was anger, resentment and depression on the faces of the survivors. Many of them who spoke to Daily Trust said they had either lost their husbands, children or other loved ones. They said the incidents have forced them to abandon their homes in search of safety.
“Realising that the attackers had already occupied our community, I started running but they were able to run faster than me,” said Christian Emmanuel who is receiving treatment at Alheri Clinic Bokkos. “I then fell down. I started crying and begged them to leave me but they refused. They caught me and shot me. I begged them for the second time but they shot me again.”
Marry Samuel, another victim while narrating her experience, said she would live to remember what she went through during the attack. She said, “It was in the night even before we took our dinner when suddenly we started hearing people shouting. Our husbands started running helter-skelter seeking refuge. I lost my husband, brothers and children. Our farm produce has been destroyed.
“We lay down in the bush hiding and luckily, the attackers did not see us. We trekked for long distances during the night. To God be the glory, we were able to survive. We are now sleeping in schools with no food or clothes. About 12 people in our family are no more,” Mary added.
Another survivor, Tabita Timothy, who also said she witnessed when many people were killed during the attack, explained that: “We have lost a lot. The attackers slaughtered our people. Some are in the hospitals receiving treatment. They burned our houses and the food we have harvested. We don’t know where we are going now.
“I am really in pain. I lost my siblings. I lost my children. I don’t know if my husband is alive or not because we neither see him nor his dead body recovered. It was a tough time for me. They killed a lot of people. We are really in a sorry state right now, and we are calling on the government to intervene.”
Narrating her ordeal in tears, Rifkatu Sati said she narrowly escaped the attack when the gunmen invaded her village. She said she lost the breadwinners of her family and she didn’t know who would cater for her for the rest of her life.
“We were cooking food when the gunmen attacked our community. We had to run for our lives. We didn’t even know where we were running to. Wherever we moved we heard gunshots. Gunshots were everywhere. They killed seven people in our family. At the moment, I don’t know where some of my children and grandchildren are. I am a widow. Those who were taking care of me have been killed,” Rifkatu said.
For Mary John, who also escaped the attack, it was a horrific scene that she would never forget. “I was watching when human beings were being killed like animals. I was lying on the ground and they didn’t see me. Women were begging and crying. I saw them where they were burning the houses. I crawled with my baby boy.
“We didn’t go to church. We didn’t celebrate Christmas. This is the first time in history that we have not celebrated Christmas. We didn’t know that it was Christmas period. I had never seen what I saw during the attack. We were just running in any direction in the bush for our lives. It was when the security personnel arrived in our community, then we came out of the bush.
“We didn’t go to church. We didn’t celebrate Christmas. This is the first time in history that we have not celebrated Christmas. We didn’t know it was even Christmas period. I had never seen what I witnessed during the attack. We were just running in any direction in the bush for our lives.
“It wasn’t until the security personnel arrived in our community that we emerged from the bush. That is how I survived. Left for me, I have no reason to live again because of what I saw. We are at the IDP camp asking people to help us, “ Mary said.
Dorat David, a survivor who lost her children, said she would live with the experience of the attack in her memory.
“I lost my husband, my mother, and my children. During the attacks, we ran into the bush, believing we had already survived. At one point, my daughter needed to relieve herself and moved a little further away. Suddenly, the attackers spotted her and opened fire on us. I am the only survivor,” Darat said.
Although the number of IDPs is yet to be ascertained, our correspondent observed that thousands of people have fled their homes due to the attacks.
According to the victims, shelter, food, and clothing are their major issues of concern.
However, Governor Caleb Mutfwang, while addressing the IDPs on Wednesday, assured them that the government would do everything within its power to address their problems.
Daily Trust reports that the recent wave of violence has been linked to the destruction of farms by cattle rustlers, which escalated from Bokkos and Mangu to numerous villages in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi, resulting in tragic loss of lives and properties.
As a sense of anguish grows across the state, top security officials said adequate measures were being put in place to maintain law and order.
For over two decades, the state has been grappling with ethno-religious crises that have claimed hundreds of lives. Observers said the lack of political will among the stakeholders in the state is the major setback in efforts to bring an end to the prolonged crisis.