Killing of Dozens in Nigeria’s Plateau State Shows “we are helpless”: Catholic Priest

Armed Fulani Herdsmen in Plateau State, Nigeria. Credit: Fr. Justine John Dyikuk

The Sunday, April 10 killing of at least 70 inhabitants of villages in Kanam local government area of Nigeria’s Plateau State shows how exposed and “helpless” the people of God are in the West African nation, a Catholic Priest has told ACI Africa in an interview. 

Gunmen on dozens of motorbikes attacked at least four remote villages in Kanam local government area on April 10, BBC News reported, adding that attack left dozens of people dead including children and young men. 

In a Tuesday, April 12 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Justine John Dyikuk confirmed the April 10 attacks, saying, “More than 70 people were killed in Kanam community, a local government in central Plateau State when armed gunmen on motorbikes raided the area. The number is expected to rise as many people are severely injured and others are missing.”

“We feel very sad and helpless,” Fr. Dyikuk further said, and added, “The situation is very critical and we are only consoled by the words in the scriptures for us to be firm in our faith.”

He recalled, “I went to one of our out stations just three days ago and while I was saying Mass, I saw these Fulani herdsmen on bikes, over 50 of them passing across where I was saying Mass. I was just lucky that I didn't go there with my vehicle; I went there on a bike and before we finished Mass, they had passed through that place.” 


“We are also helpless in the face of a government that seems to sympathize with these armed bandits,” Fr. Dyikuk, a lecturer of Mass Communication at the University of Jos, told ACI Africa.

On April 12, mass burials took place in Plateau State for the dozens of victims of deadly attacks that occurred a couple of days before, BBC News reported, adding that “most of the dead were young men and children. Many of them were shot dead as they tried to escape the attacks.”

“Nigeria is grappling with a wave of violence by armed gangs who frequently carry out killings and kidnappings for ransom – mostly in unprotected rural communities,” BBC News reported Monday, April 11.

The West African nation has been experiencing insecurity since 2009, which started when Boko Haram insurgency emerged with the aim of turning the country into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets, including religious and political groups as well as civilians.

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The insecurity situation has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers.

In the April 12 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Dyikuk highlighted some of the reasons for the recurrent attacks in what is Africa’s most populous nation. 

“Between the 1970s and the 1980s, radical Islamists came into Plateau State, which has been an exclusively Christian State to register their presence and since then there has been this tussle between Muslims and Christians,” he said.

The Editor of Caritas Newspaper further said, “The Jihad of Usman dan Fodio was resisted in Plateau State. So, there have been attempts over time to relaunch the attack with the attempt of Islamizing the people of the Plateau who are predominantly Christian.”

“These attacks have been persistent not only in Plateau State but if you look at the wave of the attacks, it is Plateau, Taraba and Benue States and this is where you find a lot of Christians in what is called the middle belt of Nigeria,” the Catholic Priest told ACI Africa April 12. 


The Middle Belt is also the window to Southeastern Nigeria, which is over 90 percent Christian, he said, and further explained, “If you capture the Middle Belt, it becomes easy to access Southern Nigeria. So, that is why attacks by unknown gunmen as the government claims have been persistent.”

“But if you ask Christians, they will tell you that these attacks are premeditated. They are carried out by Islamists who are bent on polarizing Christians and then entrenching their Islamic Sharia law,” the Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI) told ACI Africa.

He emphasized, “The attacks we are seeing in Nigeria are orchestrated by Islamists who are Fulani herdsmen wreaking havoc in our communities without being punished.”

Fr. Dyikuk went on to recount his personal experience of the ongoing violence in Nigeria.

“I used to work in a place called Azare, in Katagum local government area of Bauchi state. There were times that you go to Mass and saying Mass in an uncompleted building and some Muslim children will be throwing stones at you and there is little or nothing you can do because if you resist them or fight back, you can easily be stoned or killed,” he recounted.

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The Catholic Priest continued, “In 2011 when Buhari lost the election and cried on national television, a lot of Nigerians were killed.”

“As a Priest working in Azare, seven members of our Church were killed including the Church chairman. It was the same scenario in one of our out stations where about 8 young graduates were killed simply because they were Christians,” he added. 

Apart from the physical violence, Fr. Dyikuk said, “there is the non-physical. In my Parish where I work, two girls were forcefully Islamized. Christians are denied land to build churches, Christians are denied employment and are denied admission into universities and government institutions. I have been a victim of this. Many of our girls and boys have been intimidated, abducted and forcefully Islamized.”   

Against this backdrop, members of the Clergy in Nigeria have been calling for action from the Muhammadu Buhari-led government, Fr. Dyikuk recalled during the April 12 interview with ACI Africa.

He lamented, “Church leaders have been talking, but whatever they say yields no fruits because the government is much more interested in their agenda and pushing the frontiers of what they want to achieve, namely an Islamic State in the so-called secular state of Nigeria that we have.”

As a way forward, the Nigerian Catholic Priest said, “The Church must be entrepreneurial in terms of engendering what I call ‘Catholic-preneurship’, a sense of either giving the local people scholarship to go to school and be enlightened so they will know their faith and stand for their faith or helping them to study the theological sciences to be abreast with the modern teachings of the Church.”

Catechesis was “very important”, Fr. Dyikuk said, and added, “As much as it is good to train local Clergy, it is also good to train lay people so that they can stand for their faith and die happily defending the faith.”

He called on members of the international community to “defend Christians in Africa” and “be interested in what is happening in Nigeria.”

“Only through research, and data can we truly know the number of people that have disappeared, the number of people that have died and those who are looking up to the super powers for support,” Fr. Dyikuk said during the April 12 interview with ACI Africa.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.