ABUJA, Nigeria, March 31, 2022 (Morning Star News) – A Roman Catholic priest was among 45 Christians abducted by Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists who raided at least six villages in Niger state, Nigeria last weekend (March 26-27).
The Rev. Leo Raphael Ozigi of Mary’s Catholic Church was seized from Sarkin Pawa village, Munya County, on Sunday (March 27), said Raphael Opawoye, secretary of the Niger chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The priest was abducted as he returned to Gwada after Sunday Mass in Sarkin Pawa, Opawoye said.
“Activities of Fulani herdsmen and terrorist elements here in Niger state have placed so much pressure on Christians, as entire Christian communities in Munya Local Government are in disarray,” Pastor Opawoye said.
The chairman of the Niger state chapter of CAN, Mathias Echioda, said the priest and 44 other Christians were abducted by “armed bandits” collaborating with Fulanis.
“We are all sad about persistent attacks on our churches, and communities by these armed bandits who are collaborating with Fulanis,” he said. “Our people have been displaced, and many have been killed.”
Ozigi was the third priest abducted in March in Nigeria; in Kaduna state, the Rev. Joseph Aketo Bako of St. John’s Church in Kudenda, Kaduna South County, was abducted on March 8, and the Rev. Felix Zakari Fidsonof the Diocese of Zaria was seized on March 24.
Munya Local Council official James Jagaba said the assailants also attacked Chibani, Injita, Tsohon Kabula, Gini, Gunu, and Jesso villages.
“The entire Munya Local Government has been destabilized, and the situation in this area is pathetic,” Jagaba said. “There are kidnappings going on in all parts of the local government area.”
Area resident Celine Moses called on the Nigerian government to act decisively against terrorists wreaking havoc in the area, “because many Christians have been killed, many others displaced and complete Christian communities destroyed.”
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.
Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year (Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021) at 4,650, up from 3,530 the previous year, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List report. The number of kidnapped Christians was also highest in Nigeria, at more than 2,500, up from 990 the previous year, according to the WWL report.
Nigeria trailed only China in the number of churches attacked, with 470 cases, according to the report.
In the 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to seventh place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 9 the previous year.
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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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