Nigeria: young woman loses both parents in Fulani herdsmen attack

On November 29, 2022, Blessing Ukertor, 20, survived a Fulani herdsmen raid on her village of Yeluwata, Benue State, Nigeria. But both of her parents were killed in the attack, and Blessing is still in the hospital recovering from wounds to her hand and leg. She spoke with Aid to the Church in Need about her ordeal.

What happened to you?

November 29, 2022 was a dark day for me and my family. When I woke up, my father wanted us to go to the farm to harvest yams. I was reluctant. I never wanted to go to the farm, so I came up with an excuse; I said that I had to cook for the family. But my father insisted, saying that we would not stay long at the farm, since half of the work had been done the day before. Grudgingly, I followed them.

We started working, and we were rushing to finish before 8AM. I was clearing the bushes on the farm, while the others were digging out the yams. Suddenly, I heard my mother scream. I turned to see what was going on, and we were surrounded by Fulani herdsmen.  There were six of them. One of them had a gun in his hand; the others had machetes. I was so afraid, and I said to myself, ‘That’s how my entire family will be wiped from the face  of the earth.’

They were so close that we couldn’t run far before getting caught. One of the men took his machete and cut off my mother’s head. Her blood splashed on my face. I screamed; I had never experienced this kind of thing. It’s something you hear about on the news or in a movie.  I watched someone take my mom’s life.  I was standing right there but could not do anything. My chest hurt; it felt so heavy, as though it were a large stone.

My father gave me a sign: to run while he distracted them.  I immediately fell to the ground to crawl away. But just as I stood up, believing that I had escaped, one of the Fulanis pointed a gun at me and said, ‘You think you are smart, right? Get back or I waste you, just like your mum.’ I obeyed.

For the first time in my life, I saw my father helpless and crying. One of the men, holding a machete and a gun, asked my father, ‘Which do you prefer, to die by a gun or a machete?’ My father was afraid to answer. The same herdsman said, ‘I gave you a chance to choose, but you abused it by not saying anything. Well, rest in peace.’ On saying that, he shot my father. My heart could not take in this act of sickness. I knelt and started pleading for mercy. They beat me up, using a machete on my hand, leg, and head. That is all I can remember. When I woke up, I found myself in the hospital.

Blessing Ukertor

Is this the first time you were confronted with Fulani violence?

No. I have seen it many times, and they are still attacking, as we speak now.

Has there ever been harmony between Christian farmers and Fulani herders?

Not at all. There is no history of peaceful co-existence between us.

Will you live in a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP?)

After my treatment in the hospital, I will go and settle in a camp.

A priest and members of the Church have visited me several times here. They prayed for me and brought me food. My hospital bill was covered by the Red Cross, and the Church helped with my parents’ burial. I am grateful.

What are your prospects for the future?

I can’t say now. Life to me is meaningless. I just want to close my eyes, open them, and stop living this nightmare. I want to be healed and stand on my own feet.  I crave justice for Clement Ukertor and justice for Christiana Ukertor, my late parents.  I wish to forget the torture and the humiliation I have been through. But I will take each day as it comes. Above all, I wish that these attacks would end, so we can live in peace with each other, go back to our homes, and carry on with our lives.

Do you envision a return to farming? If so, where?

Not at all. Farming to make money is good, but money does not bring back life. I want to be able to enjoy freedom and peace of mind.

Has your faith been a source of strength for you?

On the one hand, I am angry with God for doing nothing to stop this tragedy from happening. But on the other, He is still God, and I cannot question him. For that, may His name be praised.

Can you consider forgiving your attackers?

This just happened a few weeks ago. Everything is still fresh. With the way I am feeling now, perhaps I would consider forgiving them in the future, but this attack created a huge hunger for revenge! It has poisoned my heart towards the Fulanis.  

Aid to the Church in Need supports the work of the Diocese of Makurdi in Nigeria, providing aid to Internally Displaced People of Guma and Daudu Camp, two of 14 camps and 13 hosting communities.

Besides providing pastoral care, the local Church provides trauma counseling, scholarships so that children can continue their education, as well as food and other forms of humanitarian aid. In 2022, Fulani herdsmen attacked 93 villages in Benue State, killing 325 people.

—Patience Ibile