Nigeria’s New Year Day massacre
Gunmen killed 17 Christians returning from a Church services and prayers into the New Year from 31 December, called Crossover nights, in the early hours of 1 January at at Onelga, in Rivers State, Delta region of Nigeria.
Eye witness reports said about 26 persons were shot in the attack, 14 persons died on the spot, and three of the 12 injured victims taken to a hospital later died.
Reports said the gunmen targeted the people coming out of churches in two different locations, Kirigani and Oboh areas of Aligwu community in Omoku, in what looked like a coordinated attack.
Confirming the killings, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Nnamdi Omoni, said: “I can confirm the incident but at the moment, we cannot confirm the number of casualties. The Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations and other tactical heads have been mobilised there to restore peace.”
The Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Dakuku Peterside said about 21 people died in the attacks. He claimed the attack was carried out by a ‘cult groups’ in a power fight in the community.
Mr Peterside also blamed ‘powerful politicians’ for backing these cult groups. “My heart goes to the people of ONELGA and the immediate families of the deceased,” he said.
Peterside blamed the state governor for lacking the political will to deal with ‘cult-related’ killings in the state.
“It is unfortunate that over 1,000 persons have been killed in questionable circumstances in the last two years under his watch. He should stop playing politics with the lives of Rivers people and face governance,” he added.
In central Nigeria, Kwara State, several churches were attacked during a New Year’s Eve service. The attacks on St Joseph Catholic Cathedral, the Methodist Cathedral, Christ Apostolic Church and UMCA Hausa Church, were carried out by “hoodlums”, according to the police.
The Christian Association of Nigeria in Ilorin said in a social media post: “Muslims attacked our churches during cross over this morning, many are injured, church auditoriums, and cars were destroyed, while many innocent girls were raped.”
The Kwara State Police Command stated: “Three persons were injured in the resulting stampede” that followed the attack.
The police downplayed the incident and called on people in the state to “continue with their lawful endeavours and disregard the insinuation that the crisis was between the Muslim and Christian, as Kwara State is known for her harmonious relationship among all religious group.”
The State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, met with church leaders and promised to pay compensation for the damaged church buildings.
“Peace is sine qua non for the development of any society and the government will not tolerate any act capable of breaching peace, unity and tranquillity of the state,” said Ahmed.
Another 50 were killed in another attack on New Year’s Day in the predominantly Christian villages of Tom-Atar, Umenge, Akor villages in Guma, and Ayilamo, Turan, Ngambe-Tiev in Logo local government areas of Benue state, central Nigeria. The attacks were carried out by Islamic Fulani herdsmen. Nine members of the Benue State Livestock Guards have also been reportedly killed in coordinated attacks.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, confirmed the death toll on Tuesday 2 January. He said: “The blood of those people killed by the Fulani herdsmen are on the hands of the federal government and if nothing is done they will cry unto God.”
The Governor accused President Buhari of complacency. He said the federal government was alerted on the threat by the Islamic herdsmen who had vowed to resist the anti-grazing bill enacted by the state government.
Witness accounts say the attacks on the communities started late New Year’s Day and continued to the early hours of Tuesday, with little or no security intervention. Several people have been injured and many homes burnt down sending hundreds of people fleeing the communities.
The Christian Association of Nigeria is yet to react to the New Year day massacre.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos
Image Credits:CC/social media images