Catholic Peace Entity’s Lesson from Increased Holy Week Attacks in Nigeria

St Francis Xavier Church in Nigeria's Ondo Diocese. Credit: Ondo Diocese

The ongoing attacks against Christians in Nigeria are not a clash over resources between Muslim herders and Christian farmers, the Catholic foundation Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) has said.

In a report shared with ACI Africa, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, highlights recent attacks on churches and Christians in Nigeria, which escalated during the Holy Week, saying that the attacks are nothing but religious.

In the report, Mr. Viljoen says that the last year Pentecost Sunday (5 June 2022) attack on St Francis Xavier Church in Ondo State in which over 40 people were killed ignited fear among Christians of being targeted during religious holidays. 

“Since the attack on St Francis last year at Pentecost, there has been fear in Christian churches in Nigeria about religious holidays with congregants wondering if they are the next easy target for terrorists. This week that fear proved true, with so many attacks on different churches and safe havens,” the Director of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) says in the April 14 report.

He adds, “This concentration of attacks on Christians during the holiest week of the year gives weight to the assertion that these attacks are religious attacks, not so much about pastoral land and agricultural access.”


At least 94 people were reported dead in a series of deadly attacks on Christian communities throughout Holy Week in Benue State in north-central Nigeria, in what was described as an ominous sign of escalating violence blamed on Muslim militias in the country’s Middle Belt region.

On April 2, armed men reportedly stormed a Palm Sunday service at a Pentecostal church in Akenawe-Tswarev in Logo county, Benue State, killing a young boy and kidnapping the pastor and other worshipers.

Three days later, on April 5, gunmen killed at least 50 people in the village of Umogidi, located in Utokpo county, a Catholic stronghold in western Benue, the Associated Press reported.

On the night of Good Friday, dozens were killed when Muslim gunmen raided an elementary school building in the village of Ngban that serves as a shelter for about 100 displaced Christian farmers and their families.

The April 7 attack left 43 people dead and more than 40 injured. 

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In the April 14 report, Mr. Viljoen notes that victims of Islamist attacks, both Christians and moderate Muslims, are targeted because they do not subscribe to the radical viewpoint of jihad as understood by them, thus making them targets.

“The government remains silent and not making these attacks a priority area will only embolden the insurgents, and make the situation even direr than it is currently,” the DHPI Director says.

The latest report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) indicates that since the 2009 Islamic uprising, 52,250 Christians and 34,000 moderate Muslims have been “butchered or hacked to death.”

Authors of the report describe “Buhari’s radical Islamism since 2015”, which they say has killed 30,250 Christians and attacked 18,000 churches and 2,200 Christian schools.

They say that since 2009, 14 million Christians have been uprooted and forced to flee their homes and 800 Christian communities attacked.


Authors of the Intersociety report say that Christians of Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Niger, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, and Kebbi were worst affected in the attacks, and that Christians living in Eastern Nigeria have been “worst hit in Nigerian military killings and property destructions on ethno-religious grounds.”

Warning of “a gathering storm” in Eastern and Southern Nigeria in a past interview with ACI Africa, Mr. Viljoen bemoaned the fact that the violence in Southern Nigeria was being reported as clashes with cattle herders, not as the occupation of land by armed militia.

Analysts have described the situation in the South of Nigeria as a concerted, well-coordinated occupation, saying that the ultimate goal is to occupy the South and establish a Caliphate, giving the Fulani access to land and mineral resources.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.