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Catholic Priests as Endangered Species
The 145 attacks on Catholic priests in 2022, which resulted in 39 deaths and 30 cases of abductions were evidence of an unfolding persecution. Louis Achi writes that without an effective security for both the clergy and ordinary citizens or stern consequences for their attackers, the country will sink even deeper in a mire of insecurity
At about 3am on Sunday, January 15, 2023, suspected terrorists in a renewed attack, invaded the Parish residence of Reverend Father Isaac Achi of SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, along Daza Road, Kafin-Koro, Paikoro Local Government Area, LGA, of Niger State.
The killers set Rev. Achi’s house ablaze, burning him to death. They also shot at Rev. Father Collins, Achi’s colleague, as he was trying to escape from the house.
Police spokesperson in Niger State, Wasiu Abiodun said the terrorists razed the building after failing to gain entrance into the priest’s residence and shot another priest (Father Collins) who was trying to evade the attackers.
On the same day, suspected fundamentalists riding on motorcycles invaded the New Life for All Church in the Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State, kidnapping about 25 worshippers. It was from the same Kankara Local Government Area that over 300 pupils were abducted from a secondary school on December 11, 2020.
The statistics are alarming. In 2021, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law reported that an estimated 43,000 Christians were killed in 12 years (2009-2021) by Islamic radicals in Nigeria.
Within the same period, about 10 million people were displaced in the North. Also 29,000 Muslims were killed, and 2,000 Christian schools lost. The Muslims, according to the report, were killed as punishment for their associations with Christians whom the Jihadists regard as ‘unbelievers’.
The group also pointed out that when the Jihadists abduct Muslims alongside Christians, the Muslims, in most cases, were released unlike their Christian counterparts who were “most unlikely to return alive”. A good example was the abduction of 276 Chibok girls in April 2014, it said.
Unfortunately, to-date, very few of those responsible for these atrocities have been arrested or prosecuted, which many see as suggestive of an agenda. But whose agenda? Figures released by another data tracking organisation revealed that the killings of clergymen continued in 2022.
According to SBM Intelligence, at least 39 Catholic priests were killed by gunmen and 30 others abducted in the year 2022. In the report titled “Attacks on Priests” released by the research outfit last Monday, 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded last year. SBM Intelligence, a research organisation, compiles and analyses data about happenings in the country.
The North-central was the worst hit with 12 killings while the North-west recorded nine deaths. The South-east and South-south recorded five deaths each while the North-east and North-west had four deaths each. SBM said out of the incidents, 28 were perpetuated by kidnappers, three by herdsmen, two by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), two by Boko Haram, and one each by bandits and mob violence.
“2022 was an awful year for the clergy. None in that group suffered more than Catholic priests, who at a point, were subjected to near-daily abductions with ransom demands set at an average of N50 million per priest,” the report reads. Although there were quite genuine fears that these abductions were targeted persecution of the Christian faith, the financial imperative in a holy abduction has somewhat eclipsed such concerns.”
On January 20, gunmen abducted Kefas Ishaya, the catechist of St. Monica Catholic Church in Kaduna. While it may seem that the attacks have only become more prominent recently, they have been a matter of concern since the previous year. In June 2022, Christopher Onotu, a Catholic priest, was abducted by gunmen in Obangede, Okehi LGA of Kogi State.
The gunmen reportedly broke into the priest’s rectory on a Saturday night before whisking him away leaving the congregation to know about the priest’s abduction on Sunday morning when they went to attend morning mass.
In November 2022, a Catholic priest, identified as “Father Kunat” was abducted in Kaduna metropolis following an invasion of his residence. A month later, gunmen abducted Mark Ojotu, a Catholic priest of Otukpo diocese in Benue State.
In its reaction to the alarming development, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) expressed concern over the spate of attacks on Christian clerics in the country, describing Nigeria as a “killing field” and called on its members to adopt self-defence against future attacks.
“The continuous killing as well as kidnapping of Christian clerics in Nigeria, is alarming. This has to be stopped at all costs. Nigeria is becoming a killing field where Christian clerics and its members are slaughtered like chicken,” the organisation stated.
It could be recalled that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom to either be alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Increasingly, many see the government’s involvement in religious matters as another cause of religious turbulence and strongly believe that whoever leads the multi-ethnic and religiously diversified Nigeria must not be a religious extremist or ethnic supremacist.
To-date, even as the federal government continues to deny that there is no war against Christians in Nigeria, many believe the facts on ground do not support such a claim. But as an analysis of related data also reveals, Muslims are also being killed even if there is disparity in casualty figures on both sides.
The emerging consensus is that the federal government and the security agencies have the responsibility to stop the killing of Christians, Muslims and other innocent Nigerians and must take this statutory duty far more seriously. That Christianity and Islam have come to co-exist in Nigeria is indisputable and a fact that cannot be easily erased with what seems a persistent suspicious agenda playing out.