Locals say the death toll announced by the state governor could even be an underestimate.
Mafwak Mature, 68, burst into tears in front of the mass grave where his neighbours are buried. “Those who attacked us burnt everything,” he told AFP. Hundreds of men dressed in black, some of them with their faces covered, surrounded the villages and began shooting from nearby hills, the villagers said in accounts confirmed by police.
“All I have left are the clothes I am wearing now,” he added, pointing to his worn grey suit.
Thirteen people from the same family were trapped and burnt alive when the gunmen set their house on fire. Their blackened bodies were taken away the next day on what was left of the corrugated roofs. Those who tried to flee were brutally cut down.When the first shots rang out around the remote village on Saturday at about 3:00 pm, many people in Nghar instinctively shut themselves away and prayed to God to save them.
In Nghar and other villages, residents blame nomadic ethnic Fulani Muslim herders of carrying out the attacks against “indigenous” mainly Christian farming communities.
The attacks were the latest in a seemingly endless cycle of tit-for-tat violence that has gained in intensity in central Nigeria in recent months. Access to land and water is the main driver of the long-running conflict.
But it has taken a dangerous turn and become part of Nigeria’s divisive identity politics in a country where population growth is putting scarce resources under pressure.
“Those who came here are foreigners, we don’t know anything about them,” said the head of the Fulani community in Nghar, Chiroma Yacu.Reconciliation efforts have been brokered by the authorities and non-governmental organisations. With a resurgence in tensions, some settled Fulani who have lived and traded alongside the local ethnic Berom majority for generations, fear being lumped in with the troublemakers.
“I was born here and my father died here. We have been living in peace together for a long time.”
Now there is suspicion. By gutted homes and still-smouldering burnt-out cars, Christians point bitterly at Muslim areas which were mostly spared from the wave of violence.
In the village of Ganaropp, where 35 people were killed on Saturday, “people who fled to the mosque were lucky”, said Pam Nuhu.
“We were eating our evening meal when the shootings started around 5:30,” the 54-year-old father of seven children recalled calmly.
“I asked my family to run for their life and to go to the church. My first son was shot dead in the forehead. He was 19 years old and had just finished secondary school.”
“I’m leaving to Mangu because I’m afraid, I’m really afraid,” said Paulina Auta, as she carried huge bags from her house to a grey people-carrier.
“I don’t know what I can do now, I have to start again from scratch, but if I live in this town they will come and do it again.”
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