Catholic Priests as Endangered Species – THISDAY Newspapers

Ejiofor Alike writes that the sustained abductions and killing of Christians, particularly Catholic priests by terrorists may have justified the call by five United States’ senators on their country to redesignate Nigeria as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ under the US International Religious Freedom Act


fter his claim on several occasions that terrorists did not target any particular religion in Nigeria, the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, on Monday admitted in London that Christians are actually being attacked by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists.

Reacting to a letter by five United States Senators calling for the redesignation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) over the alleged persecution of Christians in the country, Mohammed blamed the ISWAP for attacks on Christians and churches in Nigeria.

Citing the recent acts of violence targeting Nigerian Christians, five United State Senators – Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, James M. Inhofe and Tom Cotton – had jointly sent a letter to the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken urging him to immediately re-designate Nigeria as a CPC under the US International Religious Freedom Act.

The US lawmakers alleged that recent acts of violence targeting Nigerian Christians had underscored the deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country.

In their letter, copied to Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, United States Department of State, Hon. Rashad Hussain, the lawmakers stated, “as you are well aware, horrific acts of deadly violence have been committed against Nigerian Christians in recent weeks, including the massacre of churchgoers on Pentecost Sunday and the stoning of a Christian college student. Sadly, such violence has become all too familiar for Christians in Africa’s most populous country.”

But responding to the allegations in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in London, Mohammed, in his characteristic blame game, put the blame for attacks on Christians on the ISWAP terrorists, insisting that Nigeria does not have a policy that denies people their freedom of religious worship. Having admitted at last that terrorists have targeted Christians in Nigeria, the minister still failed to put the blame on the federal government, which has failed in its primary responsibility of providing security.

The failure of the federal government to protect Christians has fuelled the growing suspicion of government’s alleged complicity in the sustained attacks.

In recent weeks Christians, particularly Catholic priests and their churches have become endangered species in Nigeria. For instance, on Wednesday, May 25, terrorists broke into the rectory of Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, in the Kafur Local Government Area (LGA) of Katsina State, and kidnapped two Reverend Fathers and two boys. They were lucky to regain their freedom on Sunday, June 26, one month after their abduction. This came barely two weeks after Reverend Father Alphonsus Uboh was abducted from his parsonage at Saint Pius X Parish, Ikot Abasi Akpan, in Mkpat Enin LGA of the state, on May 9. His abductors demanded N100 million ransom and he was also lucky to breathe the air of freedom four days later after his church paid an unspecified amount of ransom. In the early hours of last Monday, terrorists also kidnapped another Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Silas, in Kauru LGA of Kaduna State. His abductors were yet to contact the church. His abduction came barely two weeks after Rev. Fr. Vitus Vaishima Borogo, was killed by terrorists on his farm in Kujama, along Kaduna-Kachia Road on Saturday, June 25, 2022.  Borogo was killed by the terrorists during a raid on a farm known as Prison Farm at Kujama.

 Rev. Father Udo of St. Patrick Catholic Church, Uromi, and Rev. Father Philemon Oboh of St. Joseph Retreat Centre, Ugboha, were similarly kidnapped by gunmen on Saturday, two weeks ago.

The priests were abducted along Benin-Auchi Expressway between Ehor and Iruekpen communities on a Saturday night. On Sunday, June 26, 2022, gunmen killed Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia, the priest in charge of St. Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo, in the Etsako West LGA  of the state. Odia was abducted from his home while he was preparing for mass. On Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022, gunmen attacked St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo State, reportedly killing at least 30 churchgoers. The Parish Priest of Holy Ghost Parish, Eke-Olengbeche, Reverend Father Peter Amodu was on last Tuesday evening reportedly kidnapped by unknown armed men along Otukpo – Ugbokolo road, Okpokwu LGA of Benue State.

Father Amodu, who is a Priest of the Holy Ghost Congregation in the Catholic Dioceses of Otukpo, was waylaid and taken away by his abductors while on his way to celebrate the Holy Mass at Okwungaga, Ugbokolo in Okpokwu LGA of the state.

Other Christians have not been spared in the spate of attacks by terrorists. The five US senators alleged that one report documented more than 4,650 cases of Nigerian Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021.

Last Wednesday, gunmen shot Reverend Daniel Umaru of the ‘Eklesiya Yan’uwa A Nigeria’ (EYN); also known as Church of the Brethren, at Njairi, Mubi LGA of Adamawa State. They also gunned down his two sons and kidnapped his 13-year-old daughter.

The sons died while the pastor was said to be fighting for survival in the hospital. The gunmen stormed the residence of the pastor where they carried out the attack.

Some Muslim fundamentalists had in May brutally stoned to death Miss Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto State, over alleged “blasphemous” message she had posted in a Whazap platform. A pastor was reportedly killed by terrorists in Abuja on April 13, while gunmen had also kidnapped eight members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Kaduna on March 26. Suspected herdsmen armed with AK-47 rifles had on June 4, abducted a pastor and his wife in Abia State. By blaming ISWAP for the attacks, the federal government is alleged to be shielding the terrorist herdsmen, who are believed to be behind these attacks.

Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, had rejected similar claim by the federal government that ISWAP was responsible for the terrorists attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo. He, however, believes that the federal government is still shielding the actual perpetrators of these crimes.

Akeredolu had argued rightly that ISWAP members were known to take responsibility for their attacks, insisting that the federal government’s conclusion was too hasty. ISWAP had already claimed responsibility for the last Tuesday’s attack on Kuje Correctional Centre.

In his reaction to the spate of attacks on Christians, the spokesman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, had stated: “The church is helpless, and only praying to God that whoever succeeds President Buhari will not continue what he is doing and that is the more reason why we are against the Muslim-Muslim ticket; they are in charge of the security and political thugs.”

Many Christians believe that with the Muslim-Muslim ticket being mulled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the ordeals of the Nigerian Christians may not end with President Buhari’s tenure.


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