YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – While Christians in most of the world were full of Christmas joy, it was the reverse atmosphere in Nigeria’s Central Plateau State where attacks in several localities on Christmas Eve left at least 160 people dead and about 300 others injured.

The attacks started on Saturday but continued into Christmas Day. They targeted 20 Christian villages across the Bokkos and Barkin Ladi areas of Plateau state.

“We were taken unawares and those that could run, ran into the bush. A good number of those that couldn’t were caught and killed with machetes,” local resident Magit Macham told Reuters.

A statement Tuesday by the Plateau State Commissioner of Police, Okoro Alawari, indicated that 96 people were killed in two of the 20 local government areas (LGAs) — Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi — and 221 houses were burned.

“The Commissioner of Police, Plateau State Command, CP Okoro Alawari expresses grief over the deadly attacks that took place in some remote villages of Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau State carried out by some yet-to-identified assailants on the December 24, 2023 at odd hours of the night, and sympathizes with the families of those who lost their loved ones in the gruesome attack,” the statement reads.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Tuesday condemned the Christmas Eve attacks, with its President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, saying in a statement:

“We condemn these acts of violence in the strongest possible terms. The burning down of houses, and worship centers, and the destruction of properties worth millions of naira is not only a criminal act but also a direct assault on our shared values of peace, unity, and mutual respect.”

“Such acts have no place in our society, and must not be allowed to prevail,” the archbishop said.

A Catholic-inspired NGO called Intersociety also condemned the killings, saying in a December 26 statement that the massacre “was likely a clandestine government-coordinated revenge killing using the government-protected Fulani Jihadists to launch a reprisal attack over the Dec. 3 killing of over 120 defenseless Islamic festival celebrants in Tudun Biri part of Kaduna State,” the group said.

The Muslims, numbering over 120, were killed by two airstrikes coordinated by the Nigerian Defense Headquarters of the Nigerian Armed Forces. The military said it was accidental, but the Board Chair of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi, told Crux he wasn’t surprised at the latest attacks.

“We are not surprised at what happened in Plateau State yesterday (December 24),” he said.

“It is so unfortunate what is happening,” he said.

“We have blood suckers all over the place, and as I have said it before, the Nigerian security forces are biased, crudely biased. They are pro-Islamist security forces,” he said.

“If Nigerian security forces were up and running, some of this nonsense would have been stopped. But our security forces are crudely biased and partisan,” Emeka told Crux.

He pointed out that highly militarized states such as Kaduna, Plateau and Benue have become “dangerously unsafe for Christians and non-Muslim others, to the extent that Fulani Jihadists recklessly and rapaciously invade Christian communities and other non-Muslim settlements at will and slaughter them at will and unchallenged.”

“Even when the deployed security forces receive early warning signals from the victims, the Fulani Jihadists still have their way and slaughter as many defenseless Christian citizens and burn down their properties as they wish and without resistance from any security quarters,” he said.

Emeka also accused the government of complicity in the killing of Christians in Nigeria, describing the ruling party at the Federal level as “the political wing of Fulani butchers.”

“The Nigeria government has continued to treat Christians as third class citizens and the Muslims are first class citizens,” Emeka told Crux, and noted that such instrumentalization of religion goes counter to the letter and spirit of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution that expressly prohibits the elevation of any religion to the status of a state religion.

He predicted that by the end of the year, at least 4500 Christians would have been killed in Africa’s most populous nation, a figure he asserted reflects recent trends.

“We monitored the killing of Christians last year. In the end, up to 5,000 Christians were slaughtered. The same thing was applicable in 2021, slightly lower in 2020, and this year from January to July, we already counted over 2500. Nigeria will be ending 2023 with no fewer than 4,000 Christian deaths,” he told Crux.

“There are a lot of butcheries going on in the country, a lot of disappearances, a lot of abductions. Security forces are abducting Christians, giving them false leveling. Fulani jihadists are killing Christians,” he said.