In Nigeria, brutal attacks and a story of survival
IT IS COMMON in Nigeria that nomadic herdsmen clash from time to time with farmers over the use of land. However, in the past year in particular, raids by Muslim Fulani herdsmen have become more violent and they have specifically targeted Christians. Mysteriously, the herdsmen carry sophisticated weaponry, which has led to speculation that assaults are financed, planned and instigated by anti-Christian elements. Thirteen-year-old Rejoice James, a Catholic student at St. Kizito’s primary and secondary school in Samaru Kataf, Kaduna State, tells the story of two such attacks:
“It was a Thursday morning, March 16, 2017 at exactly 1:30am; I heard people shouting ‘fire! fire!’ My mother and father and my two siblings rushed out of the house. Fulani herdsmen had come to our village, killing some people and setting houses on fire, including ours. It was burned to ashes. We couldn’t do anything to stop the fire; we lost everything. It felt like God was really silent and life was not fair. Still, we were unharmed.
“As we stood around, wondering what to do, God sent us a helper, a Muslim man who ran toward us and shouted: ‘run for your lives! You people were good to me and I decided to reciprocate. Run, I said, as fast as your legs can carry you—the Fulani herdsmen are already on their way to kill you.’ I came close to see who the man was and was shocked to discover it was my school’s security guard.
“So we ran. In the bush everyone was selfish; we ran as if there was a competition; we were exhausted and absolutely afraid, but we kept on running and later found ourselves in Samaru Kataf, which is almost 80 miles from where we lived. We seemed to have gotten there in a twinkle of an eye and I wondered how; it was a mystery that I can’t explain.
“We went to a Catholic Church where we were fed and clothed for few days. Afterward, we moved into the home of my father’s cousin. My parents could no longer afford to send my siblings and I to Catholic school, so I began attending a state school.
“One early morning, May 9, 2017, my principal sent a message to my dad, telling him we should not come to school that day, that all was not well in the community. That afternoon, my dad took his bicycle to go to the marketplace; it was market day. A few hours later, I saw people screaming, shouting—some were crying—and running all over. Women ran to our house and yelled out: ‘we are doomed again.’
“We heard that Fulani herdsmen had come to the marketplace and killed three Christians, and badly wounded four others. The violence had been triggered by the killing of a Fulani taxi driver by some our youth, who were taking revenge for the attack on Fanda Kaje. I began to shiver, thinking of my dad who had gone to the marketplace; my mother was shaking, as we both wondered if my father would still be alive.
“My mother held my hand and we began to run toward the marketplace. We found chaos; tomatoes, peppers, onions and other food stuffs were scattered everywhere; some shops were burned down. I was very scared; we did not know where to look for my dad. Then we heard a voice: ‘if you move, I will shoot you.” We ran away along with other people; my mother carried me in her arms and ran as fast as her legs could carry her; a woman pushed her and she tripped, injuring her leg. But the pain did not stop her.
“Just as we were about to get back into our house, there came cries of young people, screaming. We turned around and saw my dad on the ground, lifeless. The boys had carried his body from the marketplace. They rushed over to my mother, who had fainted; they poured water on her face and she regained consciousness; she began to shout and cry at the top of her voice. I could feel my mother’s pain as she held my siblings and me very tightly; we all cried our eyes out. I wondered why God remained silent.
“After my father’s burial, I helped my mother sell tomatoes for six months. Thanks to my uncle I am now attending a Catholic school again. I am happy because I made new friends and because my two sisters, my mother and I survived the attack.
“We finally are enjoying peace in the community; the army has stepped in to protect us. The hatred between Christians and the Fulani herdsmen is unbearable—but I still thank God there is a bit of sunshine after the rain in our community.”