On April 8, suspected herdsmen attacked a community in Bassa County and killed four people, including the pastor of a local ECWA church. Three days later, insurgents killed a 30-year-old Christian farmer at his home in Bokkos County. On April 26, suspected herdsmen ambushed a man and his wife as they rode a motorcycle in Barkin Ladi, leaving them injured.
In neighboring central Kaduna state, which has recorded 92 cases of the virus, attacks on five villages between April 23 and 25 left at least 13 Christians dead. The suspected herdsmen also kidnapped another 13 people and burned down homes, vehicles, and food supplies, Morning Star News reported.
“All the villagers numbering over 1,000 are now taking refuge with relations in nearby towns under tough conditions in this grim period of coronavirus lockdown,” Luka Binniyat, spokesman for the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, said in a statement.
The persistent attacks have left affected communities in dire need of assistance. On May 7, a team from Stefanos Foundation hauled plastic buckets stuffed with rice, beans, cooking oil, and ground cassava, along with sanitary items, to sustain families in the town of Vom in Plateau state for the next two weeks.
They also provided information about the coronavirus and taught people proper ways to wash their hands at camps for internally displaced and host communities. Lipdo said the effort will extend to several other towns in Plateau and another community in Kaduna state in the coming days.
“We knew people were crying for help,” he said.
The awareness campaign took on more importance after an Islamic cleric preached incendiary sermons about the pandemic. In one video, Sheikh Sani Yahaya called the virus an attempt by President Donald Trump to stop Muslims from going to Mecca and from gathering to worship in their communities.
In another video reportedly filmed in late March at the Dilimi Mosque in Jos, Plateau’s capital, several Muslims crowded outside a blue fence and others on top of a two-story building chanting in Hausa language: “The Mallam [cleric] said there is no corona; we also say there is no corona.”
The Jama’atu Nasril Islam, an umbrella body for Nigerian Muslims, released a statement shortly after the video went viral that cautioned preachers not to “incite innocent Muslims, who are unaware of the serious health implications of coronavirus which endangers humanity.”
Lipdo said the videos have also compelled groups like his to respond to Muslims, since disregarding coronavirus warnings poses a larger health risk: “It’s important that we talk to them, advise them—we do everything to raise awareness, so they come to understand this is life-threatening.”