Nigeria: An Endless Litany of Crimes

July 22, 2022

Fathers John Mark Cheitnum and Denatus Cleopas were abducted on Friday July 15, 2022, in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. On Tuesday July 19, the Diocese of Kafanchan announced that one of the two priests had escaped, while the other had been “savagely” murdered.

The two priests were abducted on Friday, July 15 at around 5:45 p.m. from the presbytery of Christ the King Church in the town of Lere, Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. On July 19, four days after asking the faithful to pray for their release, Fr. Emmanuel Uchechukwu Okolo, Chancellor of Kafachan Diocese, announced that Fr. Denatus Cléopas had managed to escape.

Sadly, Fr. John Mark Cheitnum was “brutally killed on the very day of his abduction” by his captors. The diocese did not specify who the kidnappers were, or whether a ransom had been demanded for the two priests.

The slain priest served as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for Jema’a Local Government Area, as well as Coordinator of CAN in South Kaduna. He will be buried on Thursday July 21 at St. Peter's Cathedral in Kafanchan.

The Sad Assessment

In a report sent to ACN, the Bishop of Makurdi, one of the dioceses in Benue State, complains about the inaction of the federal government and lists the dire needs of thousands of people out of the 1.5 millions who have been driven from their homes. “Naturally, having to go through such a situation was terrible for my people and for me,” says Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe.

At the heart of the problem are the persistent attacks by terrorists from the predominantly Muslim Fulani tribe on the predominantly Christian farming communities of the central region of Nigeria. The reasons for these attacks are complex: conflicts between nomadic herders and settled farmers go back centuries, but the influx of high-grade firearms in recent years has made the attacks much more deadly and destructive.

The religious dimension aggravates the situation in a country evenly divided between a predominantly Christian south and a mostly Muslim north. Most of the clashes take place in the central region, which also has the most fertile land. According to the bishop, the terrorists disguise themselves as nomadic shepherds to conceal the true intent of their attacks, which is to drive Christians from their lands.

Problems with food supply, education, and pastoral care

Food supply, education, and pastoral care are affected. The situation has caused “unbearably severe food shortages,” the bishop says, explaining that “Benue State is known to be the food basket of the nation, but the terrorism has affected the food supply situation.”

Farmers who are usually able to support themselves and their families must now live on charity. “The situation of want has reduced many to a condition unworthy of human dignity, often relying on food rations contributed by others whose economic situation is not better off in any way,” explains the bishop.

Makurdi is currently home to 80% of the displaced people in Benue State, and despite financial difficulties, the local Church has done its best to alleviate suffering and need, providing food aid and basic necessities.

However, the instability of the region sometimes makes things difficult, and the bishop himself says that “for some years now, I have not been able to carry out pastoral activities in parts of my diocese.” There is a parish in some of the settlement areas that caters to the spiritual needs of displaced people,” he said, adding that he still hopes to buy a mobile clinic to help meet the health and psychosocial needs of the displaced people.

A Source of Light 

Problems with Fulani herders, armed groups and Islamic extremists in Nigeria have been going on for several years. Government inaction has only made the situation worse.

According to the Bishop, “the scale of killings, displacement, and wanton destruction of property by these Fulani jihadist militias only buttresses the now revealed agenda to depopulate Christian communities in Nigeria and take over lands.”

“Tellingly, the government in power in Nigeria at the moment continues to do nothing about these persistent attacks, save to give laughable reasons like 'climate change' or that some Muslims too are sometimes killed in attacks by so-called bandits.”

Abandoned by the local authorities, the Church can count on the support of ACN, which Bishop Anagbe describes as “a source of light in a valley of darkness.” In 2021, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) financed 105 projects in Nigeria, in different fields.