In yet more distressing news from Nigeria, at least 50 Christians have been killed and several more abducted in an attack on a church as it gathered to celebrate Pentecost.
At least 50 Christians, including children, have been killed and dozens injured in an attack on a church in south west Nigeria as it gathered to celebrate Pentecost. Several believers were also kidnapped.
The attackers shot at people outside and inside St Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo in Ondo State on Sunday (5 June). Explosives were also detonated. The presiding priest is among those abducted.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, told The Guardian that the attackers are believed to have been militant Fulani herdsmen in retaliation to the state recently imposing restrictions on grazing following a surge in kidnappings.
“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Olayemi said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.” Open Doors is investigating these claims.
This latest attack reflects how the Islamic insurgency typically concentrated in northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt is affecting other parts of the country, including the Christian-majority south where Owo is located.
“The south of Nigeria is known for being peaceful and safe for the church, but now things are changing,” shares Zula, Open Doors country manager for Nigeria. “The violence from the north and Middle Belt is spreading rapidly and this is the result of violence that has gone unpunished.”
"The south of Nigeria is known for being peaceful and safe for the church, but now things are changing" Zula
Last week, the head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was abducted along with two other clerics in the south east of the country. They were later released after a ransom was paid.
Nigeria is number seven on the World Watch List, but it would be number one if it were based purely on violence. More Christians were killed there last year for their faith than in all other countries combined.
“We condemn in the strongest terms possible the attack on Christians as they gathered in peace to worship God,” says Jo Newhouse, Open Doors’ spokesperson for sub-Saharan Africa. “We call on the Nigerian government to adequately discharge its legal obligation of duty to protect its citizens, both under international and domestic legal regimes.
“We also call upon the authorities to take a strong stance against all violence, including Fulani militant violence, investigate the perpetrators, hold them accountable to the justice system and break the cycle of violence that is expanding to other areas of the country, as is clearly shown by this incident. The longer these acts go unpunished, the longer they will continue.”
“People are full of trauma,” says Zula, who adds that many Christians are not going to church for fear of attack, or even stopping travelling on roads to avoid abduction. “Continue to pray for faith to be increased as well, because having seen these things going on it affects the faith of many. They begin to question God – whether God is still alive. Let’s keep praying for the church in southern Nigeria and Nigeria as a whole. Thank you.”
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