JOS, Nigeria, February 2, 2021 (Morning Star News) – Mayhem continued in Nigeria as suspected Fulani herdsmen burned down the venue of a planned Christian conference in Kaduna state last week and earlier killed two clergymen in the country’s Middle Belt, sources said.
In Niger state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt northwest of Abuja, suspected Fulani herdsmen kidnapped and killed a Catholic priest on Jan. 15, and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) pastor was killed on Dec. 10.
The Rev. John Gbaakan Yaji of the Roman Catholic diocese of Minna served St. Anthony’s Parish in Gulu and was also dean of the Lapai Deanery. Gbaakan and his brother were returning from a trip to Benue state when they were ambushed at Tufa village, along the Lambata-Lapai highway, at about 9 p.m., according to the Rev. John Jatau, a priest at St. Theresa Catholic Parish Madalla.
“The priest was taken by his captors into the bush, where he was tied to a tree and killed,” Jatau told Morning Star News by text message. “His corpse was found by a search party the following day.”
Gbaakan’s brother was kidnapped and his whereabouts were unknown, said Jatau, who had traveled with them to Benue and had left them at Suleja, where they proceeded on their journey while Jatau returned to his parish in Madalla.
The Rev. Mathias Echioda, chairman of the Niger state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), decried rampant kidnappings and killings in the state.
“We see such acts as wickedness motivated by religious motives,” Echioda said by text message. “There’s the urgent need for Nigeria’s government to put an end to these barbaric acts.”
The Rev. John Hayab, CAN vice chairman in Northern Nigeria, said people there live in fear.
“The spirit of violence has taken over the hearts of herdsmen, and Christians have become their targets of attacks,” Hayab told Morning Star News by text message. “Priests and pastors now face tough times as they face gruesome death.”
Also in Niger state, suspected herdsmen killed ECWA pastor Jeremiah Ibrahim on Dec. 10 in Chukuba village, Shiroro County. He was the pastor of the ECWA congregation in Kobwa Kuta.
His brother-in-law, Peter John, said the assailants attacked the ECWA church premises where the pastor’s home was located.
“My sister has become a widow,” and her two children have lost their father, he told Morning Star News by text message. “Oh God, rise on your throne and fight those bandits and hoodlums in Erena and Shiroro and all other places in Nigeria.”
ECWA leaders in Kuta said in a press statement that Pastor Ibrahim was shot in the early hours of Dec. 10. The Rev. Adamu Na’Allah, district secretary of the ECWA, Minna District Church Council, said Pastor Ibrahim and his wife were in Chukuba village to harvest crops from their farm when they were attacked.
“A day before they could start the harvest, the bandits came and attacked the church’s pastorium,” Na’Allah told Morning Star News. “Ibrahim and another pastor who was also in the house at the time of the attack hid in the ceiling of the house. And when they felt everything was quiet, they came down from the ceiling, but unknown to them the bandits were still lurking around the premises. Rev Ibrahim dropped from the ceiling and was immediately shot by the bandits, resulting to his death.”
Five Christian women, including the wife of the deceased pastor, were abducted and released after payment of a ransom, he said.
Pastor Ibrahim was buried on Dec. 11 after a funeral service at the ECWA church in Garatu village, Bosso County, Niger state.
Conference Venue Burned Down
On Wednesday (Jan. 27), suspected herdsmen burned down the building where a Christian conference was to have been held Friday through Sunday in Zonzon, Zangon Kataf County, Kaduna state, sources said.
ECWA pastor Love Zidon said the ECWA Youth Fellowship Conference of Zonzon District Church Council was to be held at the venue that herdsmen destroyed Wednesday evening.
A 48-second video clip sent to Morning Star News purports to show the destruction of the conference site. One of the conference organizers says in the video, “The enemy, Hausa/Fulani, came and burned it down completely; therefore, how can peace be obtainable in Atyap land with all these types of atrocities? Therefore, I call on the government for a quick action.”
At the same time, the Kaduna state government confirmed the arrest of three armed herdsmen suspected of attacking Christian communities in southern Kaduna state. Samuel Aruwan, commissioner of the state’s Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, issued a statement on Jan. 22 saying that two "bandits," the government’s term for herdsmen, were arrested by personnel of the Nigerian army in Zangon Kataf County.
“The two suspects, Abdulhameed Abubakar Bala and Abubakar Abdulhameed Garba, were arrested following a tip-off in connection with their alleged involvement in a series of attacks on Gora Gan, Damkasuwa, Zonzon and Kwaku in December 2020,” Aruwan said. “The suspects are in the troops’ custody undergoing preliminary investigation.”
He said soldiers arrested a third suspect, Shehu Musa, in connection with an attack on predominantly Christian communities in Zangon Kataf, after security agents trailed him to a hospital where he was receiving treatment.
Nigeria was the country with the most Christians killed for their faith last year (November 2019-October 2020), at 3,530, up from 1,350 in 2019, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List. In overall violence, Nigeria was second only to Pakistan, and it trailed only China in the number of churches attacked or closed, 270, according to the list.
Nigeria led the world in number of kidnapped Christians last year with 990, according to the WWL report. In the 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria broke into the top 10 for the first time, jumping to No. 9 from No. 12 the previous year.
Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.
“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.
Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.
The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.
“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”
The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 added Nigeria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Nigeria joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the list.
In a more recent category of non-state actors, the State Department also designated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern.”
On Dec. 10 the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement calling for investigation into crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
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