THE January 15 murder of a Catholic priest, Isaac Achi, in Paikoro, Niger State, after terrorists burnt him to death by setting fire to the parish rectory, is the latest tragic incident in a series of killings of Christian clerics by Islamic jihadists across the country. According to a statement by the Catholic Diocese of Minna, another priest at the church house, Collins Omeh, while fleeing the attack, was shot by the terrorists. Rightly, the gruesome murder has since drawn condemnations from various national and international quarters.
No fewer than 39 Catholic priests were slaughtered by gunmen in 2022, while 30 others were abducted, a new report by SB Morgen Intelligence said. During the past year, 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded. Of those, 28 were perpetuated by kidnappers, three by herdsmen, two by the Indigenous People of Biafra, two by Boko Haram, and one each by bandits and during mob violence.
This is troubling. Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, described the attack on Achi as the worst form of terrorism. “This is a sad moment, for a priest to be killed in such a manner means that we are not all safe, these terrorists have lost it, and drastic action is needed to end this ongoing carnage,” the governor said. He is right.
These killings speak to the spate of genocidal attacks meted out to Christian communities. The Federal Government needs to design new ways to reduce insecurity in the country.
The continuous murder of Christian clerics is condemnable and abhorrent, not necessarily by the nature of their positions, but for the fact that no human life deserves to be taken by another. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognises the inherent right of every person to life, adding that this right “shall be protected by law” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life.”
This is far from the situation in Nigeria, as shown by past incidents. In January 2020, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Lawan Andimi, was abducted when Boko Haram insurgents attacked his village. Days later, he appeared in a video clip where he appealed to the state governor to rescue him. Despite the N50 million offered as a ransom, he was eventually killed. Many Christian leaders have been targeted by Islamic terrorists since then.
According to a report collated from media reports of targeted attacks on churches and mosques by The PUNCH, at least 139 clerics and worshipers have been killed in various attacks across the country between January 1, 2021, and July 4, 2022. The report indicated that no fewer than 394 religious worshippers were kidnapped in the period reviewed.
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A breakdown of the incidents showed that while 229 Christians were kidnapped and 86 were murdered, 53 Islamic clerics and worshipers were killed and 165 abducted. The prominent attacks included the heinous killing of a Catholic priest and three parishioners in Benue State on March 30, 2021.
On April 13, a pastor was killed in an Abuja church, while bandits reportedly murdered one person and abducted four others during an attack on a church on April 25, 2022. Gunmen kidnapped eight members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Kaduna State on March 26. On June 4, armed herdsmen struck in Abia State, abducted a pastor and his wife, and stabbed another person.
On June 6, no fewer than 40 persons were slaughtered during the attack on the St. Xavier Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State. Several other worshippers suffered injuries. A few weeks after the Owo massacre – on June 19 – gunmen attacked Catholic and Baptist churches, killed four and abducted 44 persons. Similarly, on June 25, terrorists killed a Kaduna State-based Catholic priest, Vitus Borogo. In September, one person was killed, and three parishioners were abducted from a church in Kogi State.
An analysis of media reports and data from a Catholic charity organisation based in the United Kingdom, Aid to the Church in Need, revealed that no fewer than 28 Catholic priests were kidnapped in Nigeria in 2022. A report by the International Organisation for Peace-Building and Social Justice stated that the Islamic State’s West African Province is believed to have already recruited as many as 5,000 militants, compared to Boko Haram’s one-time strength of around 2,000.
The report warned that the rise in Islamist extremism is threatening to destabilise the region, including the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and parts of West Africa. This concern is shared by the United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Religious Freedom or Belief. The Christian Association of Nigeria has made several calls to the Federal Government to find the perpetrators of these grievous crimes and prosecute them to prevent “a situation where citizens will be asked to take up arms.”
The primary responsibility of both the federal and state governments is to secure the lives and properties of citizens; they need to rise to this task. The targeting of clergymen is provocative, especially since the motive is to incite members of religious groups against each other, leading to a breakdown of law and order. The extremists seek to gain global relevance by killing clerics.
The Nigerian government needs to not only fund security agencies but also to monitor them and ensure that they can provide security. State governors should equip create and equip local policing agencies to tackle these mindless killings by non-state actors.
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