Shaforon village in north-east Nigeria’s Adamawa state is all but deserted. Residents fled to the bigger cities of Numan and the state capital, Yola, when the village was attacked by Fulani herdsmen in December.
Hanatu Solomon, whose husband died during the attack, is one of the few to have returned. She says she hopes to rebuild her life.
“Leadership is by example,” she told World Watch Monitor during a visit to Shaforon, in the Numan local government area, on 21 March. “l returned so that other women will be encouraged to do the same. We can’t desert our ancestral homes simply because we have been attacked – that will give our enemies victory over us.”
Solomon, 46, is a leader in the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, and one of few women, and even fewer men, to have come back to the village. She is one of the many women made widows by conflict with the herdsmen.
“When will the killing stop? It is either Boko Haram insurgents or herdsmen killing our people, [who] are mostly Christians,” she said. “Many Christian women have lost their husbands. Our children cannot go to school again when our husbands, the bread winners, have been massacred.”
A mother of five, Solomon says the government seems unwilling to tackle the herdsmen, despite the brutality of their attacks.
“Most Christian women are raped by herdsmen when they launch an attack on their villages,” she said. “Some women feel they must hide out of disgrace; other women become pregnant from these murderers.
“I believe these gruesome killings of the men by the herdsmen are attempts to wipe out generations of Christians. If a man is not alive to get a woman pregnant it means his lineage will not continue.”
Solomon is typical of the many women who lost husbands in the 4 December attack on Shaforon, or in the many other attacks by the herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgents across Nigeria.
She said they face “pain, sorrow and hunger on a daily basis”, and that many women have had to desert their homes because their houses and livelihoods have been completely destroyed.
“It will take our communities more than 20 years to recover from these traumatic experiences,” she said, adding that she was concerned at the “Islamisation” of Nigeria.
Solomon’s husband, Audu, was killed during the December attack, but not by the herdsmen.
News of the herdsmen coming to attack reached the village a few days before they arrived, she said. Her husband told her to take their children to Numan, where he said she would be safe surrounded by many others who had left their homes for the same reason. But Audu told her he wanted to stay “to defend his ancestral home”.
When the herdsmen attacked, the Nigerian Air Force also dropped bombs on Shaforon and the nearby villages of Lawaru, Dong, Nzoruwe, Pulum, and Kodomon, as World Watch Monitor reported. Her husband sustained injuries from one explosion and was hospitalised in Numan. He died three days later.
“A good man was just killed like that, without anything done to his killers,” Hanatu Soloman said.
Nigerian Christians want to take the Air Force to the International Criminal Court over its alleged bombing of the six villages. Amnesty International said in February that 35 people died as a direct result of the air raids, and accused the Nigerian military of a “shocking disregard for the lives of those it supposedly exists to protect”. The Nigerian army defended its actions, saying it only fired warning shots to deter spiralling communal violence.
Shaforon is now barely fit to live in. Sources of drinking water have been contaminated by dead bodies, and farming equipment destroyed. The remaining villagers are starving, and they fear an outbreak of cholera if aid does not arrive soon.
According to the Nigeria-based International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, 3,750 people have died at the hands of Fulani herdsmen since 2015, when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari – himself a Fulani – assumed office.
The NGO, which claims to be supported by Amnesty International, published an open letter to the president, signed by its chair and founder, Emeka Umeagbalasi, in which it criticised the government for “doing little or nothing to end the killings”.
The NGO accused the Buhari government of making “lopsided security appointments” in its security forces, which have been responsible for the “intensification and escalation of the ongoing killing spree” targeting non-Muslims. It also noted the predominance of Muslim senior officers in the military and intelligence services.
According to Amnesty International, 549 people were killed in 2017 in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers, and, since 2018, attacks and reprisals have led to another 168 deaths. More recently, in March, 57 deaths were blamed on a two-week killing spree by Fulani herdsmen.