Gunshots broke the evening’s calm as Bulus Ali Magaji walked out of his home to buy a recharge card for his phone. The head of Kwatas village knew instantly that whatever was happening was worse than a robbery: the gunshots rattle continuously.

Magaji ran back into his home to hide and alerted the deputy police commissioner. But the destruction was over before security forces could get there some 40 minutes later. Armed attackers had mostly targeted a beer parlor in this central Nigerian town of about 3,000 people. When the shooting was over, they had killed 14 villagers and wounded at least five others.

One villager who died was the single mother of 20-year-old Patience Aganbi and her four siblings. She had also stepped out before the attack began to buy a recharge card but never returned. Her family found her body outside the compound the next morning. Aganbi said extended family and other community members provided food and other items after their mother’s death.

By the time I visited Kwatas weeks later, a cool, dry breeze blew across the eerily silent village. In a corner past the community’s rows of maize ridges, a heap of sand peaked above dry ground. Small stones lined in the shape of a cross marked it as a sacred spot: That’s where Kwatas residents and those from several neighboring villages buried 21 people killed in Fulani militants’ attacks on Jan. 26 and 27. 

I met Magaji sitting on a couch inside his single-story official residence, exhaustion evident on his face. “People have been suffering,” he said. 

Magaji and other community leaders have worked to restore some sense of normalcy across the communities, but the imprint of the violence remains visible in the gravesite and mass destruction of churches and other properties. In Kwatas, young children sat in circles playing with plastic bottles and sand. Women spread out clean laundry on long, dry, cactuses. All had fled the town for weeks after the attack, seeking safety, but returned by the time I visited. 

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