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HomeBreakingCharred Bones, Shallow Graves, Litter Plateau villages after Christmas Carnage

Charred Bones, Shallow Graves, Litter Plateau villages after Christmas Carnage

A TruthNigeria video report from former Bokkos resident Masara Kim on Jan 11. Mr Kim is standing near the northern boundary of Bokkos County, 35 miles south of Jos.

25 Invaded Villages Remain No-go Zones to their Former Residents

By Steven Kefas

(Jos) Nigeria – An oppressive silence hangs over the smoldering ruins of Mbong, Ndun, Chirang and other deserted settlements of  Bokkos, Mangu and Barkin Ladi communities where Fulani jihadist fighters launched a well-coordinated savage attack on Christmas Eve. Twelve days later, the village’s scorched foundations and bloodstained streets are empty. Its survivors, reportedly 19,000, remain huddled in makeshift camps, too afraid, traumatized and terrified to return.

“That night, we awoke to gunshots and screams,” recalls Saratu Bulus from the shelter where she now sleeps, over 9 miles from her former home. My neighbor’s roof was on fire. My husband yelled at me to take the children and run to the valley while he went back for his parents.” She never saw him alive again.

The Christmas Eve assault on Mbong, Ndun, Chirang and 20 other Christian villages across Plateau State lasted hours, leaving over 295 dead. The attackers returned the morning after Christmas to loot and torch structures still standing. Now all that remains of the communities are charred wooden beams, collapsed roofs, and haunting echoes of the terrified screams Mrs. Bulus heard in the darkness.

She and her children are among 19,000 newly displaced villagers taking refuge in crowded camps within Bokkos Local Government Area. Camp conditions are bleak, with inadequate food, water, and sanitation for the ballooning population. Traumatized survivors sit listless, flinching at loud noises that conjure memories of their ordeal.

Horrific Details Emerge

Accounts of brutality continue trickling out, as survivors process the violence inflicted upon them. In Mbong, residents showed the scorched room where raiders herded a woman and her five young children before setting them ablaze with an explosive. The killers locked the door of the sturdy house, to prevent the family to escape. Behind the village lies a freshly dug trench filled with victims’ remains.

“They opened fire as we ran from our houses,” Boniface recalls, displaying bandaged gunshot wounds on both legs. “After killing the men, they caught many women and small children, locked them into huts and set them aflame. I watched my own sister burn.”

For 12 days following the carnage, no security forces were stationed within the attacked areas, permitting the assailants to return and ensure full destruction. Even residents who cautiously approached neighboring villages seeking family and friends reported being chased at gunpoint by lingering militants.

“It was unsafe to even check surrounding areas for survivors,” said Yakubu Dung, whose elderly aunt and young nephew perished in another razed village two miles north. “Any movement meant risking death. Their threats kept us trapped in the shelters like frightened animals.”

Map of Black Christmas attack zone showing 9 of the population centers taken over. Map courtesy of Stefanos Foundation.
Map of Black Christmas attack zone showing 9 of the population centers taken over. Map courtesy of Stefanos Foundation.

David Malan, a visibly traumatized mourner lost his young wife and 9-months old baby boy during the attack at Chirang, Mangor Ward.

“On Sunday, December 24, 2023, at about 5pm, we started hearing gunshots. People came out, and the armed herdsmen ran away. Later at about 9 pm, the gunshots resumed, people started running, because the gunshots were intense this time around.

“The women, about 23 of them, had gone to hide somewhere, but the terrorists found a 9-year old girl who was running to go join her mother where they were hiding,” Malan said. “They deceived her into showing them where the women were hiding with the promise that she would be spared. When she took them there, they shot her first before killing the women, about 23 of them.” Malan said.

The collapsed Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Ndun is one of 8 church buildings destroyed during the killing spree from Dec. 23 to Dec. 30. Photo by Steven Kefas.
The collapsed Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Ndun is one of 8 church buildings destroyed during the killing spree from Dec. 23 to Dec. 30. Photo by Steven Kefas.

The Christmas season is meant to be a time of joy and togetherness, but for Rhoda Silas, it brought unimaginable tragedy. Rhoda’s husband Abraham, a loving father of three young children, was brutally killed and beheaded by jihadist fighters during the horrific attack on Christmas Eve, Silas told TruthNigeria.

 Still grieving her sudden loss, Rhoda now faces the monumental task of raising her children alone, ages 8, 6 and 4. The family had relocated to Plateau State just six months ago, hoping to start a peaceful new life after fleeing violence in their former community. Rhoda recalls her husband Abraham’s optimism about their future in this place, and his excitement to give their children a happy childhood. But instead of the refuge they sought, they found terror on what was meant to be a silent, holy night. Rhoda speaks softly as she describes trying to comfort her terrified children, huddled in hiding as screams and gunshots erupted all around them. And later identifying her beloved husband’s battered body, the trauma now etched into her memory forever. Yet even amidst overwhelming heartbreak and uncertainty about the future, Rhoda’s courage and resilience shine through as she focuses on caring for her children. Friends often find her telling stories and sharing laughs over little moments of joy with her kids, the things that make life worth living. Her faith and her family’s wellbeing give her strength to carry on.

Though Nigerians from different parts of the world have reached out with assistance for families like Rhoda’s displaced by violence, the help has been minimal. Facing intense grief and post-traumatic stress from the attack, Rhoda is now also burdened as the sole provider trying to meet her family’s basic needs

Of the 38 villages attacked during the period known as Black Christmas, 25 are still guarded by the terrorists, according to a filmed report by Masara Kim on Jan. 11. The new occupants reportedly are tearing off metal roofs and doors, to discourage the house owners to return to their homes. Several tin mining pits in Bokkos County were abandoned by the local residents but are currently being mined by the invaders, as documented by Mark Lipdo, founder of Stefanos Foundation in Jos.

Pleas for Protection

This absence of security reinforces the terror, leaving village groups feeling neglected and betrayed by regional officials despite desperate pleas.

“For over seven years our communities have endured recurring violence from militant herdsmen during each holiday season,” explains local chief Adamu Hassan, referring to prior Christmas and Easter attacks.

“Every time we notify authorities about impending assaults based on inside intelligence, they vow to secure vulnerable areas. But year after year, they fail to deploy adequate forces,” he laments. “It’s like we’ve been offered up as periodic blood sacrifices.”

Even a peaceful march staged Jan. 5 by several displaced women from attacked areas backfired, when Bokkos police arbitrarily arrested 37 protesting area youths.

“We only wish to mourn our dead and provide for our suffering families in safety,” insists march organizer Saratu Musa. “Yet our nonviolent efforts are met with apprehension and force.”

The arrests inflamed already simmering community tensions, prompting negotiations by various advocacy organizations before participants reluctantly dispersed. 

Infrastructure and Aid Lacking

Compounding regional animosities is the absence of basic infrastructure and connectivity within the now-depopulated villages. Unpaved roads grow increasingly treacherous, leaving passage in or out precarious even without jihadist fighters threats. Electrical, water, and communication services remain virtually nonexistent. 

“Our remote villages have always lacked development projects the government affords larger towns,” notes chief Hassan. “With farming and trades disrupted by this violence, poverty and resentment will only increase.”

“I want a proper burial for what’s left of my people, but security forces offer no assistance finding and identifying their scattered remains,” mourns Serah Bulus. Like others, she seeks psychological space and time to grieve before envisioning any temporary return.

Aid organizations such as The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation increasingly supply vital relief for victims’ pressing needs. Yet their resources strain under multiplying numbers of displaced, as attacks spread to newer villages. Donated food and blankets offer scant comfort for those having lost homes, relatives, livelihoods and entire ways of life virtually overnight, with no hope of return anytime soon.

Communities Shattered, Faith Tested 

This suffering resonates across countless villages such as Mbong, Chirang, Ndun, their names now starkly linked to the Plateau’s latest spasm of religious violence. Surviving residents describe traditions once centered around church services, holiday meals and community gatherings. No more.

“This Christmas attack shattered our people,” laments chief Hassan. “Many now associate the holiday purely with fear and death. Some traumatized persons claim they can never celebrate Christmas season festivities again.” 

Perhaps most profoundly, this brutality has shaken many villagers’ core identity and beliefs.

“If God allows faithful people to face such evil when innocently worshipping Him, some wonder whether He remains good and just,” whispers camp aid Martina Luka, clutching a singed hymnal found among Mbong’s ashes.

As survivors struggle to reconcile immense trauma and loss, the answers seem slow in coming.

—Steven Kefas is a veteran conflict reporter in the Middle Belt reporting for TruthNigeria. 

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