By Masara Kim
It was his only hope of owning a house again, after being displaced for seven years in Nigeria's central Plateau State. But the militants who killed his family and drove him from his home were not done yet.
In 2015, Mr. Samson Boyi was among 800 residents forced to flee from Rantis, a Christian village located 30 miles south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State.
Starting in late 2013, armed militants repeatedly attacked this small farming town. By 2015, close to 100 people had been killed in the attacks, according to Mr. Solomon Dalyop, a local youth leader.
Finally, in a single night in April 2015, attackers killed more than 30 people in the town and razed the entire village, said Dalyop. Residents identified the assailants as Muslims from the Fulani tribe.
Survivors of the late evening attack, which lasted hours without military intervention, fled to neighboring towns for refuge.
Their burnt houses were demolished by the killers, who took over their farms and the livestock they left behind, Dalyop said.
Boyi, then a father of two, stayed with relatives in Vom, a southwestern Jos suburb, where he enrolled in a seminary to become a pastor. After he graduated in 2019, he pastored the Deeper Life Bible Church, a congregation with about 200 members.
In late 2021, Boyi started leading a few volunteers from Rantis to assess the safety of the town for possible return. This February, the villagers started rebuilding their houses in the town, with financial support from a local tribal association, the Berom Youth Molders Association (BYM), and a few local politicians.
On 6 April, Boyi was on the site rebuilding his family house. More than ten others were also there, joyfully raising their houses. But few minutes after 3 o’clock, six armed men arrived on motorcycles and opened fire, said Mr. Dahwol Jam, who survived after being shot twice – once in the right side of his chest and again in his right shoulder.
“They shot randomly and set one car on fire and left,” said Jam, who was struggling to speak from his hospital bed where doctors were using pipes to drain blood from his lungs.
“Two people were killed close to me. I was shot while trying to escape,” he said.
In a statement, Dalyop who is the President of BYM, named those killed as Mr. Gyang Jugu and Mr. Dalyop Boyi. The latter’s brother, Pam Boyi, was also shot multiple times, but survived. He had been admitted at a different hospital at the time of interviews.
According to Jam, Pastor Boyi – a relative of Gyang and Pam –was the first to be shot. Boyi could not speak to the press. His lower jaws were ripped off by a bullet that nearly claimed his life. A little farther up, and the bullet would have shattered his nasal cavity, making survival a near impossibility. A little farther down, and his throat would have been destroyed.
His wife, Chundung Samson, did not witness the incident, but believes he was targeted. “The Fulani knew him,” she said. “They used to come to the site and assist him in the building,” she added.
According to Mr. Istifanus Gyang, the Senator representing Plateau North in the Nigerian Senate, the “terrorists” had targeted the returnees to frustrate their resettlement.
“These killer herdsmen, who are of course terrorists, are determined to take over those communities which were displaced through violence by the same group, and they want to turn that into their own land,” he said.
Gyang dismissed calls for the government to negotiate with terrorists, demanding a military crackdown. “It is their responsibility to provide security to these communities as they continue the rebuilding exercise to come back to their ancestral homes,” he said.
A week of deadly attacks
Apart from the attack on Rantis, close to 30 people, mostly people who were already displaced, were killed in different attacks in Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State from March 28 to 4 April.
According to a local youth leader, Ezekiel Bini, “On 28 March, five were killed in Kwall District, on 31 March, two were killed in Kpatenvie village near Jebbu Meyango town and on 1 April, four were killed at a mining site in Meyango,” Bini said.
On 2 April, a group of armed men opened fire at villagers attending a cultural festival in Chando-Zirechi, a small town to the north of the Maxwell Khobe cantonment, which hosues the headquarters of Nigeria’s 3rd Army Division. Ten people were killed and 28 others injured, said Bini.
The following morning, 3 April, two people were killed in an ambush in Ditivi town. The town is located 5 miles southwest of the 3rd Army Division headquarters.
On 4 April, three people were killed in Ariri, a small farming town in Jebbu Meyango, according to Lawrence Zongo, a journalist who is a native of Bassa. Several houses were burnt in the attack which occurred at about midnight, said Lawrence.
The attacks have terrified the already traumatized villagers, who were struggling to resettle after they were displaced by previous attacks in the area, said Musa Agah, a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives, in a phone call.
“These attacks are heartbreaking, especially given that we have made frantic efforts to see that our people return home and continue their farming which is their main source of income,” he said.
More than 24,000 residents of Bassa were reportedly displaced by armed attacks which killed close to 100 people within three days last year.
The IDPs squatting with relatives or taking refuge in camp-like settings in surrounding cities have been abandoned by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which has failed to protect citizens, said Agah.
“If the people will be killed repeatedly and the government will not show concern, it suggests nothing but complicity,” he said.