Many Christians Among Victims of Mass Killings in Northern Nigeria

“The blood of these martyrs will not be in vain,” priest says.

By Agnes Aineah, ACI Africa

KAFANCHAN – A Catholic priest in Nigeria’s Kaduna State, site of numerous attacks on civilians, says he has had to organize successive burials due to increasing violence in his parish, calling the victims, many of whom are Christians, “martyrs” whose blood was not been shed “in vain.”

Father Sam Ebute who serves as the director of vocations for the Society of African Missions (SMA) in Kagoro within Kaduna State spoke to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), expressing disillusionment at the dire situation in one of the most affected regions in northern Nigeria.

“I am consoled by the fact that God is not dead and that he is watching. His time will come. He has told us in Psalm 46:10 to trust in him. The blood of these martyrs will not be in vain,” Father Ebute said in a message that the pontifical charity organization shared with ACI Africa.

The SMA vocations director narrated how, in a period of weeks, he had organized mass burials of Christians, most of them women and children who had been attacked by terrorists in Kagoro.

In the wake of one of the deadliest attacks on July 21, the priest said he had to bury 21 of his parishioners who were killed in the midnight attack.

“It happened at about 11:20 p.m. on July 21 in Kukum Daji village, about 10 minutes’ drive from Kagoro. The community had a gathering of youths when they suddenly heard gunshots and noises of men screaming. For them it was an all too familiar scenario playing out again as they had seen happen in Agwala, Doka, Kaura and Zangon Kataf,” Father Ebute told ACN, listing some of the places in northern Nigeria where bandits had killed innocent civilians.

In less than two hours, he says, the bandits left 17 youths dead, mostly girls, while four died on their way to the hospital.

There were about 30 others who were severely injured, and they had to receive treatment in hospitals in Kafanchan and Kaduna, he continues, adding that it was not the first time he had seen such attacks and had to participate in burying the faithful.

“For four years, since I became a priest in 2016, I have been burying my parishioners. In 2017, I had to bury a woman who had been killed along with her four children at night, in Tachira. In 2018, in Tsonje, the parish had to also bury four people who were killed. In 2019, in Zunruk, seven youths were killed in broad daylight while playing soccer,” Father Ebute recalled.

For the past seven months in southern Kaduna State, in north-central Nigeria, there have been incessant attacks on Christian communities, killing 178 people.

The increased killings of Nigerian Christians by Fulani herdsmen who also target Muslims in the west African country have been likened to genocide.

Bishop Matthew Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese who was asked whether he agreed that the Fulani killings of Christians can be categorized as genocide according to international law told ACN, “I believe so.”

In a statement by the Catholic Bishops of Kaduna Province sent to the Catholic charity organization, the bishops said, “Dark clouds of violence have enveloped our land. Our country is in the firm grip of the grim reaper. In the last few years, the purveyors of this violence have taken over the land and placed our security forces on the defensive.”

The prelates noted that Nigerian’s main challenge in the last ten years has been how to contain the terrorist group Boko Haram and that two years ago, the military announced that it had tamed the situation. s

“Our joy was short lived as the story has progressively gotten far worse,” the bishops lamented.

They added, “Today, almost the entire northern states are in the grip of these purveyors of violence and death. In the last three years, we have witnessed the relentless attacks and ransacking of entire communities by bandits in states like Benue, Kebbi, Plateau, Kaduna, Katsina, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara. Thousands of lives have been lost to these bandits who have operated with relentless abandon.”

The Bishops of Nigeria’s Kaduna Ecclesiastical Province affirmed that the ravages of Boko Haram, the herdsmen, kidnappers and the bandits have “turned everyone into a victim.”

“The people of Southern Kaduna feel abandoned by their governor in their grief,” the bishops said, a view that Father Ebute concurred with.

“What makes all of this even more difficult is the fact that the government doesn’t take decisive measures to curb the menace. This is the most devastating and frustrating thing to fathom,” Father Ebute said.

The cleric explains the difficulty of preaching to victims of the violence. “Another thing that is difficult to deal with is to preach forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and love to people whose means of livelihood has been snatched away from them, their prosperity ebbing away and destroyed as a result of these attacks,” he said.

All communities where banditry has increased the most are the areas where the missionaries carry out their ministry. They all fall under the main parish of St. Joseph’s in Kagoro, in the Diocese of Kafanchan where Father Ebute ministers.

“For the past seven weeks, we have been burying our parishioners with no end in sight. These last attacks have left us all in fear and especially the fear of the unknown because we do not know when the next round of attacks will happen and what will trigger it. We cannot worship in peace. We have no confidence in the safety of our homes,” said Father Ebute.

He added in his sharing with ACN officials, “Our movements are limited; our faithful cannot freely go about their activities. It is farming season now, but they dare not go to their farms for fear of being attacked there. They have left their crops to perish. It is like we have been left to perish because of our faith.”

Asked about his task as a missionary priest, Father Ebute said, “When you shepherd people and such attacks occur, it is as hard for you as it is for them. But you must be available to them, to comfort them, pray for them and encourage them to keep their faith in God and to stand firm.”

“We offer spiritual, moral, and material support the best that we can,” Father Ebute said in reference to his ministry as a missionary priest among the people of God under attack in Nigeria’s Kaduna Ecclesiastical Province.

Featured image: Father Sam Ebute prays over a mass grave in Nigeria. (ACI Africa photo credit: Aid to the Church in Need)

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ACI Africa

The Association for Catholic Information in Africa (ACI Africa), officially inaugurated on August 2019, is a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya, this media apostolate strives to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent. https://www.aciafrica.org/