, 13 March, 2020 / 6:03 PM
At least 20 clergymen among them Catholic priests and seminarians have been killed in the West African nation of Nigeria since June 2015, while another 50 have been abducted, according to a report by a on-governmental organization (NGO) based in the West African country.
“No fewer than 20 clergymen including at least eight Catholic Priests/Seminarians were hacked to death in the past 57 months and not less than 50 abducted or kidnapped,” reads part of a special report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety).
While noting that Nigeria has “fully become a killing field of defenseless Christians”, the March 8 report has identified some of the slain priests as Fr. Joseph Gor and Fr. Felix Tyolaha, both killed by Jihadist Herdsmen at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish Ukpor-Mbalom (Benue) on April 24, 2018; Fr. Clement Ugwu, abducted and killed on March 14, 2019, and Fr. Paul Offu abducted and killed on August 1, 2019.
Among the newest victims of targeted killings are Nigerian Christian leaders, the report dedicated to victims of Islam jihad in the country has indicated. These have included Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) officials, Pastor Lawan Andimi and Pastor Denis Bagaur, both killed on January 20, 2020.
The latest victim of Christian persecution in the Catholic Church in Nigeria is 18-year-old Michael Nnadi, who was abducted alongside three other seminarians from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary. While his three colleagues were later released, seminarian Michael, an orphan, was murdered toward the end of January 2020.
Dubbed “Nigeria: A Killing Field Of Defenseless Christians”, the report identifies Fathers Dim, Ezeokana and Chukwuemeka abducted by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen in September 2016 in Enugu State and a Vincentian priest whose name is not provided and who was kidnapped on September 26, 2016, as some of the Catholic Priests among the 50 kidnapped clergymen since June 2015.
Others are two Priests of St Teresa’s Catholic Church, Umueze in Anambra State who were kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen in December 2018.
Apart from clergymen, the report reveals that at least 350 Christians were killed by insurgents in the first two months of 2020.
“In the past two months or Jan and Feb 2020, no fewer than 350 Christian deaths have been recorded and between 100 and 150 Christian travelers abducted on highways,” the report shows.
In reference to the 350 Christian deaths, “Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen accounted for no fewer than 250 (deaths). Boko Haram and ‘Highway Bandits’ are responsible for the remaining 100 deaths,” the report adds.
Available statistics reviewed by the NGO indicate that since June 2015 “when the present central Government of Nigeria came on board,” between 11,500 and 12,000 Christian deaths were recorded. Of these, “Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen accounted for 7,400 Christian deaths, Boko Haram 4000 and the ‘Highway Bandits’ 150-200.”
Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when Boko Haram insurgency began with the aim of turning the country into an Islamic state. Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets including religious and political groups as well as civilians.
The insecurity situation in the country, the most populous in Africa, is further complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.
“While 100 percent of the victims of Jihadist Herdsmen attacks across Nigeria are Christians, the estimated 4000 Christians killed by Boko Haram were part of the estimated 6000 massacred by the sect since June 2015,” the report has stated.
Travelers using the country’s highways have also borne the brunt of the jihadists with the report noting, “Targeting and abducting Christian travelers on highways particularly in Northern Nigeria who are mainly citizens of Igbo extraction have also intensified and taken a dangerous dimension in recent months – whereby the victims are separated at gunpoint according to their tribe and religion.”
“Same is applicable to victims of house to house looting during which Christians are separated from others at gunpoint and taken away or killed on the spot,” the report adds.
Referencing the ethnic nature of the attacks, the report notes, “Christians particularly those of Igbo extraction are waylaid on highways and abducted into the bush and forced to pay ransom or face death including beheading or forceful conversion to Islam.”
The report exemplifying the ethnic-driven attacks indicates, “On 14th Jan 2020, no fewer than 58 Igbo Christian travelers through the Ezenwata Transport’s Luxury Bus were ambushed and forced to stop after which they were abducted.”
During the highway ambushes women “are routinely subjected to sexual violence including rape and other forms of sexual assault.”
According to the report, Boko Haram, Jihadist Herdsmen and “Highway Bandits” have been abducting travelers on major Nigerian highways with the abductees being held and tortured in captivity until they pay ransoms running into millions of naira each, with those unable to pay risking death or rape for young women.
“As per the report, “many, if not most of the victims” of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria’s Northeast region are Christians while most victims of ‘Bandits/Highway Kidnappers’ in Northern Nigeria “are Christians traveling to Northern or Southern parts of the country using the highway.”
In total, the report has revealed that since 2015, “not less than 10,475 Christians were hacked to death” by non-state actor Jihadists-Boko Haram, Fulani Militia and highway bandits.
In the 57 months, Fulani Jihadists labelled as the “fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world” by the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, accounted for about 62 percent of the 7,400 deaths.
At the state actor level, the country’s security forces “have been responsible for 1,050 Christian deaths” outside the law and “were perpetrated in gross violation of the international human rights and humanitarian laws,” the report indicates.
During the same period, the number of internal refugees has risen to over 3 million with majority being Christians in the northern part of the country, while an estimated 2,000 Churches have been destroyed.
The report attributes the impunity of the jihadists partly due to the government's protection, a conviction held by Catholic Bishops in the country.
“The Government of Nigeria and its security agencies have also come out boldly to defend the terrorist activities of Fulani Jihadists. The Government also functions as their mouthpiece,” the report claims.
‘Figure spinning’ and ‘mangling,’ the report says, “have also become part of the Federal Government’s conspiracy and complicity – whereby Government denies out-right the casualty figures associated with Jihadist Herdsmen killings or have same brutally mangled. Censorship, false denials and falsehoods also characterize the Government’s response to Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen’s butcheries.”
Intersociety, led by Christian criminologist Emeka Umeagbalasi, has been monitoring and documenting the killings of Christians in Africa’s largest country since 2010, through the help of criminologists, lawyers, journalists, security, peace and conflict studies’ graduates.
In doing so, the 12-year-old organization, which opposes inter-faith violence or killing in the name of radical Islamism, has been relying on credible local and foreign media reports, eyewitnesses’ accounts and reports from Christian bodies and church media, reports from local and international rights and research organizations, as well as available credible government accounts.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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