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Three people were killed and 36 were abducted on 19 June in the latest attacks by gunmen of Fulani ethnicity on two churches in the Kajuru Local Government Area (LGA) of southern Kaduna state, Nigeria.

According to the Kaduna state government, militia men riding on motorcycles began by attacking the Ungwan Fada community before moving on to Ungwan Turawa and Ungwan Makama all under Roboh community, looting shops in each area and carting away valuables.

According to survivors of the attack on Roboh village, militia men sporting AK-47s descended on St. Moses Catholic Church as the Sunday service was underway, killing three people later identified as Peter Madaki, Ali Zamani, and Elisha Ezekiel. One seriously injured victim is being treated at St. Gerald Catholic Hospital in Kaduna South.

The militia then attacked Bege Baptist church, abducting 36 people in total; five men, and the rest women and children. The Ward Head was among the abductees but was later returned to the village along with an elderly woman so that he could act as the contact person for ransom negotiations for the remaining abductees.

This was the second attack within a two week period on Adara communities in Kajuru during Sunday services. On 5 June at least 32 people were killed in Ungwan Gamu, Dogon Noma, Ungwan Sarki and Maikori villages when they were attacked by militia men riding three per motorcycle who were reportedly assisted by a white helicopter that fired on those attempting to defend Maikori village. 

This was also the second attack on the Roboh community this year.  Several villagers were abducted during an attack on 5 January. Prior to this, houses were burnt when the village came under attack on 27 April 2020.  Villagers had decided church services should commence at 7am due to constant attacks in the area, to enable people to return to their homes early.  However, the attack on 19 June occurred shortly after 7am and while the Catholic and Baptist church services were underway.

Churches, clergy and congregations across Nigeria are being targeted increasingly by groups which were designated as terrorists in a Government Gazette issued in January, and which are known to have cemented links with various terrorist factions. The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev Samson Ayokunle recently lamented that at least 10 clerics were abducted in the first five months of this year, two of whom were killed by their captors.

On 17 June the Catholic Diocese of Ondo conducted a mass burial for 32 victims of the 5 June terrorist attack on St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, southwest Nigeria.

On 14 June gunmen reportedly attacked the Celestial Church of Christ, Oshofa Parish, the Ewekoro LGA of the Ogun State capital, Abeokuta, also in the southwest, abducting two people identified as the assistant parish leader, Rev Oluwaseun Ajose, and Mr Dagunro Ayobam, a Sunday School teacher. Their captors are reportedly demanding ransom of 50 million Naira (approximately £97,000 GBP).

Earlier, Rev Fr Christopher Onotu, the parish priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church Obangede in Okene, Kogi State, central Nigeria, was abducted by armed assailants at around 9pm on 4 June. Ransom negotiations are reportedly underway for his release.

Elsewhere, on 29 May, the Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Most Rev Dr Samuel C Kanu Uche, the Bishop of Owerri, Rt Rev Dennis Mark, and the Prelate’s Chaplain, Very Rev Jeremiah Shittu, were abducted by eight gunmen of Fulani ethnicity whilst on an official visit to Abia state in the south-east. The three men were released on 30 May following payment of N100 million (around £190,000 GBP) in ransom, but not before they were reportedly assaulted, tortured and threatened.

On 25 May armed men broke into the rectory of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, in the Kafur LGA of Katsina State in the northwest, and kidnapped the parish priest, Rev Fr Stephen Ojapa (MSP, Missionary Society of Saint Paul of Nigeria), his assistant Rev Fr Oliver Okpara, and two boys who were also in the church at that time.

March also saw a spate of abductions, including that of Rev Fr Joseph Aketeh Bako, who was seized from St. John’s Catholic Church, Kudenda in Kaduna state on 8 March, and whose death, reportedly following severe mistreatment, was announced on 24 April by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna.

Other church leaders abducted in March were Rev Fr Leo Raphael Ozigi, the parish priest of St. Mary’s Church in Sarakin Pawa Village in Niger State, central Nigeria, who was kidnapped on 27 March and released on 8 April, and Rev Fr Felix Zakari Fidson, parish priest of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Zaria city, Kaduna state, who was abducted on 24 March while on his way to the Diocesan headquarters, and released on 3 May.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Every week the lives of more innocent Nigerians are lost across the country in terror attacks targeting houses of worship, homes and transportation, with many more either injured or abducted and extorted, yet both state and federal authorities continue to illustrate a lack of urgency in formulating and enacting coordinated and effective responses which prioritise the protection of vulnerable citizens, including religious leaders and congregations. Once again our prayers are with all whose loved ones were killed or kidnapped in these latest attacks. We appeal to the Nigerian government to become far more proactive in addressing this violence, holding those responsible to account, and ensuring that the armed forces are sufficiently resourced to combat the threats posed by these and other armed non-state actors. The international community must also become far more proactive in ensuring that the Nigerian authorities receive sufficient assistance to bring an end to this horrific violence by non-state actors who pose and existential threat to this strategically important nation, and in holding the government to account wherever and whenever it fails to protect all of its citizens equally and effectively.”