by Amaka Okoye
On July 15, Father Chietnum John Mark was added to the rapidly growing list of Christian priests and pastors who have been kidnapped or murdered by jihadists and criminal gangs in Nigeria.
He and Fr. Donatus Suleiman were kidnapped in Kaduna state, at the rectory of Christ the King Catholic Church, Yadin Garu in Lere Local Government Area, after they arrived there on an assignment. Fr Donatus was lucky to escape, but Fr. Chietnum was murdered on the day he was kidnapped. His decomposing corpse was discovered four days later.
In the wake of this attack there has been a palpable wave of fear among priests in Kaduna.
Father Declan (not his real name) tells me that priests in the region are “striving to live right with God and waiting for the unknown.”
In a shaky voice, another priest in Kaduna, who wants to remain anonymous, says,
I feel really bad because as a Catholic priest, the recent attack clearly shows that this people doesn’t have fear of God, fear of humanity or anything. Living in Kaduna has become terrible. But as a priest, I can’t run away because my parishioners are there. As priests we encourage one another and see what the bishops and authority of the Church are trying to do. But living in Kaduna as a priest we do not know who is going to be the next, how it is going to be the next, we do not know who might even be a spy. People are scared coming to church, attending any worship, people are scared spending their time praying to God because they do not know if the church is safe... We do not know what the government is doing. As a priest I don’t know what to say. It is unfortunate. We are in the midst of Muslims; the attack may not be soon. They are targeting the Christian dominated areas.
A member of the late Fr Chietnum’s parish says the priest was vocal on political and social matters:
Father was a very simple priest. His death is a shock to me and my family. We are still in shock. Why will anyone want to kill him? He spoke out against bad governance. He encouraged us to vote right in the coming elections of 2023. He cared for our spiritual and general well-being. Why will anyone kidnap and kill such a kind priest? Why?
A Nationwide Trend
Though President Muhammadu Buhari claims that security is faring well under his regime, Nigeria is facing a wave of abductions and killings in general. The targeting of Christian clerics specifically is also becoming more frequent.
As the Catholic church was still reeling from the murder of Fr Chietnum, Pastor Moses Dikko Usman was abducted by suspected Islamist militants in Kaduna State on July 25. His abduction is the latest in a string of kidnappings and killings of church leaders this year. A report by the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), confirms 6 of their pastors have been killed in the past seven months.
In April, a pastor was killed in Abuja, the federal capital territory.
In May, the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, His Eminence Samuel Kalu Uche, and two of his acolytes were abducted by armed men in Abia state in Southeast Nigeria. His congregation paid over N100 million in ransom for their release. This sparked reactions but did not stop the bandits and criminal elements from further attacks. A few days after the release of the victims and the Prelate’s numerous media appearances to narrate his ordeal, armed herdsmen struck again, abducting a pastor and his wife in Abia state and also stabbing another person.
Pastor Idemudia Johnson (not his real name) tells me:
These attacks are not mere coincidences, these are not random. They are targeting clerics. These attacks are well thought out. They are well coordinated. There is an agenda. This attack on the body of Christ is deliberate. Do they want to kill us all? And our government has remained silent. Well, the government’s silence is loud enough. We depend on Divine protection.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, a global Catholic charity, not less than 18 Catholic priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria since the beginning of 2022. Five of these abductions happened in the first week of July. Although some were released unharmed, three were killed.
On June 25, gunmen suspected to be terrorists killed Rev. Fr. Vitus Borogo, a Catholic priest based in Kaduna State in north central Nigeria. A day later, news broke that Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia had been killed by his captors. He had been kidnapped while going for Sunday mass at St. Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo in the Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, West of Nigeria.
And on July 6, Rev. Fr. Peter Amodu of Holy Ghost parish, Eke-Olengbeche, was kidnapped by armed men along Otukpo Ugbokolo road, in Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State, North Central. Just like the late Father Odia, Father Amodu was abducted on his way to celebrate mass.
How the Churches are Responding
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has repeatedly called on the Nigerian government to protect Christians in the country. It has criticised the governemt for its inaction and alleged refusal to intervene, which it says has claimed the lives of many men of God from different denominations.
The Catholic church has also demanded that the government live up to its constitutional duty, which is protecting the lives and property of its people. The church also on many occasions has encouraged its people to remain peaceful and leave vengeance to God - a position that many people now criticize in the wake of the many killings and atrocities targeted at Christians in different parts of Nigeria.
The questions no one can answer are: how long will these attacks continue? And what impact will they have on the ability of Christians in Nigeria to sustain communal life?