Death toll rises to 150 following Christmas eve attack in Nigeria

A man stands in front of a burned house on Dec 26, 2023, following an attack by gunmen in Bokkos, Nigeria. [AP Photo]

The death toll in Nigeria’s Christmas Eve attacked by armed gangs has risen to 150, Plateau state officials said Wednesday, while survivors and observers expressed outrage at the government’s reaction.

Plateau authorities say the unknown gunmen overran more than 17 local villages across Bokkos and two other districts, burning down houses in the attack.

A local district head in Bokkos said search teams were still combing nearby bushes for missing people. Thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Shelong Gabriel said she last spoke to two of her male cousins on Christmas Eve.

She said that the two brothers — ages 45 and 58 — told her they had joined a local vigilante group because of a warning of a possible attack. Later that night, she said, assailants attacked the village, killing the men and their mother.

"These people came on motorbikes, and they had so much machineries” Gabriel said. “I lost three of my family."

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack, but locals blame herders. Plateau state is embroiled in a decades-old ethno-religious conflict between predominantly Muslim herders and Christian farmers.

The attack has sparked outrage and criticism of the government.

Isa Sanusi, Amnesty International's country director for Nigeria, called on authorities to investigate.

"It is really sad and unfortunate that these kinds of things continue to happen, and the authorities cannot do anything apart from sympathizing with the victims, which shows helplessness on their side,” Sanusi said. “Rural communities have been allowed to live in the last 10 years or so at the mercy of gunmen."

Plateau resident Mangai Luka said people have been afraid since the attack.

"People are at home; nobody is going anywhere,” Luka said. “With the situation ... you can't go far from the house because you can't tell what will happen next. Even [last] night we heard gunshots; we couldn't sleep."

Nigerian authorities have condemned the attack and promised to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Insecurity is a big problem for the government of President Bola Tinubu, who came to power promising to address the problem.

Vice President Kashim Shettima visited the affected villages on Wednesday.

Some observers, including security analyst Chukwudi Victor Odoeme, remain critical of the government’s efforts.

"I think the government is not doing enough,” he said. ”There's still the absence of political will. It's an indictment on our government and security forces."