At least 200 people were killed in a series of brutal attacks across central Nigeria over the Christmas weekend. Armed groups stormed several Christian villages, shooting residents and burning down homes in violence that has shaken the nation.
Coordinated Raids Target Rural Communities
The attacks took place from Friday to Sunday in Nigeria’s Plateau state, located in the religiously divided “Middle Belt” region. Groups of gunmen riding motorbikes and driving vehicles raided rural communities primarily inhabited by Christian farmers. They opened fire indiscriminately while shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” according to witnesses.
In one village, the gunmen reportedly gathered people for a town hall meeting on Friday, separated men from women, and then shot the men execution-style. Over 30 women were later found with their throats slit.
“These attacks are shocking for their brutality and sheer disregard for human life,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement. “Deliberately targeting civilians going about their daily lives is unacceptable and contrary to fundamental human rights and dignity.”
High Death Toll Shows Escalation of Violence
Authorities say at least 200 people have died so far, though the true number may be even higher as remote villages are still being searched. If accurate, it would mark one of the deadliest episodes of violence in Nigeria’s history.
“The rising death toll shows these were carefully planned, simultaneous attacks aimed at inflicting maximum damage,” said security analyst Adamu Umar. “The level of violence keeps escalating while security forces appear unable to stop it.”
The table below outlines the worst attacks over the weekend:
|Estimated Death Toll
Religious Tensions Boil Over
The violence appears to stem from long-running disputes between predominantly Muslim cattle herders and predominantly Christian crop farmers over access to land and water resources. As climate change drives desertification in northern Nigeria, herding communities have been pushed south into the fertile central region, igniting clashes with farming villages.
While environmental pressures may contribute, experts warn against viewing this solely as farmer-herder clashes. The well-armed assailants operated with a high degree of coordination rarely seen in spontaneous communal conflicts.
“These attacks show every sign of being premeditated acts of ethno-religious cleansing,” said human rights group Civicus. “The gunmen singled out Christian villages on a religious holiday with the intent to kill civilians, burn churches, and destroy communities.”
Government Response Criticized
President Bola Tinubu has directed the military high command to immediately deploy reinforcements to restore order in Plateau state. However, the delayed response and failure to act on intelligence about planned attacks has drawn sharp criticism.
Villages allegedly sent warnings days in advance that they faced imminent attack, but received no protection. Troops also took several hours to arrive on site after violence erupted, allowing attackers to operate unchecked.
“The security agencies have failed woefully,” said Senator Shehu Sani of the opposition PDP party. “They showed no will or commitment to protect vulnerable communities, even when informed attacks were coming.”
Rights groups accuse federal and state officials of downplaying the sectarian nature of the violence and need to protect Christian minorities Specifically. While condemning the attacks, officials described them mainly as part of the broader “security situation” facing the country.
Renewed Calls for Improved Security
As Plateau state reels from the deadliest violence since a similar massacre in 2010 killed over 500 Christians, President Tinubu faces renewed pressure to curb spiraling insecurity.
The latest carnage follows the abduction last week of over 30 train passengers in northern Kaduna state, the bombing of a Catholic church in June that killed 40 worshippers, and the attack on a rural Catholic church in Ondo state in June that left 50 parishioners dead.
Tinubu has pledged to make crushing the militants behind the weekend attack a top priority. Security forces said they have deployed fighter jets, attack helicopters, and an additional 2,000 ground troops to restore stability in the Middle Belt.
However, military efforts have so far failed to contain the armed groups terrorizing Nigeria’s northwest and central regions. Rural communities remain acutely vulnerable, especially in remote areas. In the coming year, Tinubu must work urgently with state governors to implement local peace agreements and provide security to prevent another Christmas weekend massacre.
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