Dozens killed in attacks on Nigeria churches ahead of World Cup game

Gunmen stormed Sunday services in four villages near Chibok in Borno state where Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls on April 14. They hurled explosives into churches, torched buildings and fired on worshippers as they tried to flee, residents said.

“So far we have 54 dead,” said a Borno state official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss casualties with the media.

A local leader in Chibok, who also asked that his name be withheld, said residents had discovered at least 47 bodies in the surrounding bushland, but told AFP the search was ongoing and figures were still being collated. 

Federal government spokesperson Mike Omeri confirmed on Monday that “a number of people were killed” but said he had not yet received an official casualty report from the local government and could not discuss specifics. 

Locals have accused the military of ignoring distress calls made after the attack began, leaving them defenceless during the attack, but Omeri said: “I was … reliably informed that the military and the airforce were there. Maybe a little late, but they made it there.”

The Chibok leader challenged the government’s version of events, saying the military “did not attempt go” to the scene of the attack. “Anybody who tells you the military went there is lying,” he said. 

In the week following the April abductions, Chibok residents accused the security forces of doing almost nothing to secure the girls’ release, despite military claims that a massive manhunt had been launched. 

The United States, Britain, France and Israel are now supporting Nigeria’s search-and-rescue operation, but there have been no signs of success so far, with 219 girls still missing. 

The villages targeted on Sunday – Kwada, Ngurojina, Karagau and Kautikari – are all within 10 kilometres of Chibok.

Church attacks have been a prominent feature of the insurgency, which Boko Haram claims is aimed at creating an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles face France at 6pm, their first appearance in the tournament’s knock-out rounds since 1998. But the relentless Boko Haram violence has muted preparations ahead of the kick-off, even in Lagos, the commercial capital, nearly 2 000 kilometres from the scene of Sunday’s violence.

“This is the southwest …We are free (of Boko Haram violence) here,” said Binuyo Lewis (35) who manages a bookmakers in the busy Obalende market in the upmarket Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos, where a gleaming green and white of Nigeria dominated an otherwise crumbling facade. But, he said, “we are worried about our brothers in the northeast”.

Boko Haram are blamed for killing thousands since 2009, but the first half of this year has been the bloodiest stretch of the insurgency, with more than 2 000 people killed.

A year-old military offensive in the northeast has done little to stem the unrest.

Expatriates in Lagos and the capital Abuja, hit by three bombings since mid-April, have been warned to stay away from bars and so-called “viewing centres” showing Monday’s match. But for most football fans in the energy-starved country, viewing centres are the only option to see the Super Eagles play. 

Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, has rolling power cuts every day and only a small fraction of the population can afford a generator needed to run a television when public electricity is switched off. – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Aminu Abubakar
Aminu Abubakar
Aminu Abubakar is a journalist based in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, where he grew up. He worked for local newspapers before joining Agence France-Presse (AFP) in 2000 as a freelance correspondent covering northern Nigeria.

Related stories


press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday