It's been nearly three weeks since the horrific Christmas Eve massacre by extremists in Nigeria. Around 300 Christians were killed, as entire villages were burned down and food supplies destroyed. The attacks, in Plateau State, were co-ordinated, and as yet none of the perpetrators have been held to account.
Masara Kim, a local journalist whose cousin was killed, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that hundreds of militants stormed more than 30 villages, shooting at people with machine guns and setting houses on fire.
Thousands were displaced, and have lost their homes and property. Fulani herdsmen have been seen destroying harvests and other food products, burning down farms and food stores, leaving communities starving and without any form of self-support. Many of them are now said to be staying in church buildings while the communities piece together a future.
Father Andrew Dewan is director of communications in Pankshin Diocese, where most of the attacks took place, He told ACN: “In situations like this, people often rush to churches, rather than to police stations, because they don’t have confidence in government institutions.
“There are up to 16 IDP camps in Bokkos town, mostly within Church premises."
There have been reports of even more murders in the last 24 hours, and Dewan says security guards who patrol the area often don't put up any resistance, leading many people to feel unsafe in their own homes.
Father Dewan added: “We have heard of some arrests but no prosecution, much to the frustration of survivors and victims’ families.
“We are used to this charade – attackers are often arrested and later set free.
“Politicians give speeches that contain no grain of truth.
“They make promises and pledges of rehabilitating and reinstating all those displaced back to their ancestral homes, but that is often not the case.”
He explained that the existing situation of hunger and famine has been aggravated by these attacks:
“During the last farming season, many farmers could not go to their farms because of previous attacks.
“Those who managed to farm and harvest their crops have found that everything was burnt to ashes in this last episode of attacks.”
Father Dewan says that Christian communities are specifically targeted in the Christmas Eve attacks:
“It was on Sunday – people don’t work on farms on Sunday.
“Ninety-nine percent of those killed were at home. Some people were killed in their sleep.”
Local sources told ACN that many of the victims were women and children.
Jalang Mandong, a survivor who lost 10 relatives in the massacre, claimed the attacks were designed to “target Christians” and “disrupt the celebration of Christmas”, while also attempting to “take over the lands of these communities”.
Mr Mandong said that he and some other villagers initially attempted to defend their families but were outnumbered by the militants and had no weapons to fight back with against the gunmen.
Father Dewan, says it reminds him of the persecution experienced by early Christians in the first century.
He said: “We draw parallels with the stories of the early Church about how Christians were persecuted, as contained in the Acts of the Apostles.
“Our task is to keep preaching and spreading hope, believing that someday things will be better.”