As Catholic priests, Christians, and Muslims continually fall victim to kidnappings, banditry, and terrorism across the country, with little to no robust response from security agencies, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has called on the government to pay more attention to the ongoing crisis in the Northern part of the country.
This plea follows the recent abduction of Rev. Fr. Thaddeus Tarhembe, the Priest of St. Ann’s Catholic Parish in Sarkin Kudu, Ibi LGA, Taraba State, by unidentified gunmen over the weekend.
In a statement, HURIWA highlighted the alarming statistics from 2022, which revealed that 30 priests were kidnapped in Nigeria, with 39 killed, and at least 13 clergy members abducted and subsequently released this year.
The association recalled that last month, a seminarian in the Diocese of Kafanchan lost his life during a kidnapping attempt when a rectory was set on fire. The Catholic Diocese of Ilorin also appealed for prayers and the safe return of three men kidnapped from their monastery by Fulani bandits on October 17.
“Novice brother Godwin Eze and two postulants, Anthony Eze, and Peter Olarewaju, were taken from the Benedictine Monastery at Eruku in the early morning hours. While Anthony Eze and Olarewaju were freed on October 21, 31-year-old Godwin Eze’s fate remains unknown.
“The Diocese of Ilorin serves Kwara State in North Central Nigeria, which shares borders with states, including Kogi and Niger, that frequently experience attacks by Fulani herdsmen. In September, Nigeria’s Catholic bishops issued a warning that insurgents, militias, and criminal gangs had effectively taken control of the country, with Catholic priests being frequent targets due to their perceived vulnerability”.
HURIWA described 2022 as an “awful year for the clergy,” particularly for Catholic priests who, at one point, were subjected to nearly daily abductions, with ransom demands averaging N50 million per priest. There are genuine fears that these abductions amount to targeted persecution of the Christian faith, but the financial motive appears to overshadow these concerns.
HURIWA asserted that what is happening in the North is a form of jihad aimed at eliminating Christianity. They believe this begins with the leadership of Christianity, particularly the organized Catholic Church. Once the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the North is undermined, they hope to weaken and ultimately conquer Christianity in the region.
Continuing, HURIWA criticized the federal government for its inability to identify the perpetrators behind the killings of Catholic Priests and other religious leaders in the country. They suggested that the government may either be overwhelmed by the situation or involved in cover-ups due to corruption within the security sector.
“The failure of the government to address the issue of priest killings has emboldened other criminals to commit similar acts, prompting calls from civil society organizations, including HURIWA, to avoid having a President and Vice President from the same religious faith. A government sensitive to diverse religious orientations and cultural affiliations is needed”.
However, HURIWA acknowledged that it doesn’t appear that President Tinubu is sectarian at the moment, as he has not displayed traits of religious bias. Therefore, the association emphasized the importance of him demonstrating that he is not a religious bigot by taking substantial action to investigate and address the root causes of banditry and terrorism.
The rights group also called on the Department of State Security, the Nigerian Police, and other security agencies, along with intelligence agencies, to intensify their efforts in capturing the criminals responsible for these crimes.
HURIWA concluded by emphasizing the need for a new approach to tackling insecurity and highlighting the government’s responsibility to decisively deal with the perpetrators of these atrocities, which continue to motivate others to commit more crimes.