JOS, NIGERIA (ANS) — After the killing of a Roman Catholic priest and a parishioner in southeastern Nigeria earlier this month, another clergyman on Thursday (Aug. 15) narrowly escaped an attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen about 40 miles away, sources said.
Morning Star News reports armed Fulani herdsmen on Aug. 1 killed the Rev. Paul Offu in Awgu town, south of Enugu city in Enugu state, as he was returning to his church site after a visit to other congregations he was overseeing, according to Enugu Diocese officials.
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The herdsmen shot his car as he drove along Ihe-Agbudu Road, forcing it to a halt, and then dragged him out and shot him to death, diocese spokesman Emmanuel Nkemjika Igwesihi said in a press statement.
The herdsmen took parishioner Kenneth Igwe in the ambush. Police found his corpse on Aug. 5, according to Igwesihi.
“The Rev. Fr. Paul Offu was shot dead by some Fulani herdsmen who took him into the bush around 2 p.m.,” the Rev. Ben Achi, director of communications for the diocese told Morning Star News by phone. “He was accosted by the herdsmen and was shot dead.”
About 69 kilometers (42 miles) north, herdsmen on Thursday (Aug. 15) ambushed another Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Chimezie Ani, near Caritas University, a Catholic university in Amorji-Nike, as he drove toward Ugwuomu, the priest told Morning Star News.
“I was driving when suddenly the herdsmen, who were armed, shot at my vehicle, aiming at the windshield,” Ani told Morning Star News. “I immediately on noticing them stopped the car and drove in reverse. The bullets from them broke my windshield and riddled the car all over. I miraculously escaped unhurt. They retreated into the bushes after realizing I escaped from them.”
He said Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian commuters along that highway “for some time now.”
“I’m sure they were herdsmen,” Ani said.
Achi of the Enugu diocese confirmed the Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 attacks.
“The incident [Aug. 15] happened along Ugwuomu Road as you heard,” Achi said. “We are very grateful to God that he was not harmed, as he was able to navigate on reverse to a safe distance.”
Morning Star News said that following the Aug. 1 killing of Offu, more than 200 Catholic priests took to the streets in the city of Enugu, the state capital, in protest on Aug. 2. They marched peacefully to the State House to present a letter to the governor expressing their displeasure over growing Fulani herdsmen attacks on Christians.
Afterwards the Rev. Callistus Onaga, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, told reporters of his sadness over the inability of the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim Fulani, to end herdsmen attacks across the country. Christians in the state have come under a series of attacks over the past seven years, adversely affecting area Catholic churches, Onaga said.
“I am sorrowful and utterly disappointed on the security in the state,” he told a press conference.
Another priest, the Rev. Clement Ugwu, of St. Mark Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno, in Ezeagu County of the state, was kidnapped and killed in March, and herdsmen shot another priest in late July, Onaga said.
“We were shocked to see a priest that joined in our meeting yesterday afternoon in this bishop’s house very healthy and sound being reported to have died. The priest shot by the herdsmen two weeks back is still receiving intensive medical attention as we speak,” Onaga said. “Why we get worried when our priests are attacked is that it shows the level of insecurity other Nigerians face daily. Our priests are very much respected and honored by our parishioners and the people, so if these things can happen to them, what happens to the flock, the people they shepherd?”
Priests in various parts of the state were kidnapped from 2013 to 2016, he said.
“Only in 2017 were we given some breathing space,” Onaga said. “It continued in 2018 and this year, 2019; it is worse as we have suffered the death of a priest in March this year, and now another issue. All we demand is that if there are crop of bad herdsmen in the state, they should be fished out, and we will continue to live in peace with the good ones.”
Morning Star News also reported that on Aug. 2, the Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, bishop of Awka Diocese, in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra state, told reporters of his concern over the tepid response of the Nigerian government to violence carried out by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, he said the government lacks political will to curtail attacks against Christians.
“I am sad – what manner of country is this?” Ezeokafor said. “A country where some people are untouchables. A country where some people will be killing innocent citizens. What we are witnessing today is simply coordinated attacks against Christians in the country.
“These senseless killings of innocent Nigerians are becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings? Is it not obvious that some people, somewhere are carrying a particular agenda? There is more to this than meets the eye.”
Police confirmed the attacks on the priests and reported arrests of some of the attackers.
Police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement on Friday (Aug. 16) that officers were investigating the attacks on the priests.
“Crack detectives from the Intelligence Response Unit, the Forensic and Homicide sections of the Force Criminal Investigation Department have been deployed to Enugu state,” he said. “The deployment is to complement the Enugu Command of the Force in their investigations into the unfortunate incident.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.