By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THREE weeks ago, the remains of a Catholic priest, Reverend Father Vitus Borogo, who was gruesomely murdered on Saturday, June 25, by terrorists who raided his farm in Kaduna were laid to rest at the Independent Way Cemetery in the state capital. A procession was held with hundreds of priests carrying placards of various inscriptions to express their grief. Tears flowed freely. His poor mother, an old woman, collapsed.
The Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna, Most Reverend Matthew Ndagoso, lamented that with Borogo’s obsequies, the Diocese had buried three priests killed by terrorists in less than a year. Borogo’s demise was a big blow to the Church in Kaduna because he was an invaluable asset. Until his death, he was the chaplain of the Catholic community of the Kaduna State Polytechnic and chairman of the Nigerian Catholic Diocesan Priests Association, NCPDA, Kaduna State chapter. Yet, he was only 50 years. In May, another priest, Fr. Joseph Bako, died in the custody of his abductors in Kaduna. The Archbishop, in his sermon of lamentation, prayed that Fr. Borogo’s death would be the last in such circumstance. It is not. On Friday, July 15, terrorists struck again and kidnapped two of his priests – Frs. John Cheitnum and Donatus Cleopas – while they were on pastoral work at Christ the King Catholic Church, Yadin Gura.
Fr. Cheitnum was the Director of Communications, Diocese of Kafanchan; chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Jema’a LGA; coordinating chairman of CAN, Southern Kaduna; Dean of Kwoi Deanery; and the Pastor of St. James Parish Fori, Jema’a LGA. Another invaluable, charismatic priest. The Church solicited intense prayers for their quick and safe release. Five days later, his decomposing body was discovered. Apparently, Fr. Cheitnum was murdered the same day he was abducted but his corpse was not found until July 19. Fr. Cleopas was luckier. He escaped, though there are claims that huge ransom was paid to secure his release. Very soon, Archbishop Ndagoso will officiate in yet another requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of another beloved priest cut down in his prime by unconscionable monsters – evil men, shielded by a despicable system. That is a huge cross to carry. Before this latest murder, the Catholic Church, Kaduna Diocese alone has lost three of its priests to terrorism, while four others were kidnapped and only regained their freedom after ransoms were paid. But Kaduna is not an exception. All over the country, the Catholic Church is under intense assault.
A day after Fr. Borogo was murdered, Fr. Christopher Odia of the Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, was abducted on his way to Sunday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo, Uzairue, Etsako West LGA, at about 6.30 am, and horrifically murdered. Fr. Odia, who was the Administrator of St. Michael Catholic Church, and also the Principal of St. Philip Catholic Secondary School, Jattu, was only 41 years old and 10 years in priesthood. On May 25, Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr. Oliver Okpara, were abducted when terrorists stormed St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, Kafur LGA, Katsina State. They were released after more than a month in captivity. On Monday, July 4, Reverend Father Emmanuel Silas of the St. Charles Catholic Church, Zambina, Kauru LGA of Kaduna State, was abducted right from the parish rectory. On July 2, two other Catholic priests in Edo State – Fr. Peter Udo of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Uromi, and Fr. Philemon Oboh of St. Joseph Retreat Centre, Ugboha, Esan South East LGA, were also kidnapped along the Benin-Auchi Expressway.
On Sunday, June 5, terrorists launched a ferocious attack on Catholic faithful at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, killing scores and injuring many others. No one has been arrested and brought to book for these heinous crimes. The terrorists strike at any location of their choosing, killing and maiming innocent, law-abiding citizens, and the government pretends to be helpless. It is not. Instead, as General Theophilus Danjuma once alleged, the government is colluding in these atrocious acts. Of course, this epidemic of attacks on the Catholic Church in Nigeria cannot be mere happenstance. They are well-coordinated and deliberate. Most of the priests were abducted right from their parish rectory. So, the terrorists knew who they wanted and where to get them.
But there is still a puzzle. Why will anyone kill Catholic Priests – men who abandoned all to serve God and fellow human beings? Anyone who is conversant with the Church knows that priests are some of the most educated people in Nigeria, yet very deprived in terms of material wealth and I dare say, by choice. In deference to their religious vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, they neither marry nor raise families. Many have no properties of their own – no houses, cars, and other such luxuries. That is an enormous sacrifice. Despite their education and proven capacity, many, particularly those in rural areas where parishioners can hardly muster N5,000 offering every Sunday, starve, literally. The Catholic Church is one of the most patriotic institutions in the country, engaged in all forms of charity works. Above all, the Church prays for ‘Nigeria in Distress’.
“God of infinite goodness, our strength in diversity, our health in weakness, our comfort in sorrow, be merciful to us your people. Spare this nation Nigeria from chaos, anarchy and doom,” says one of the stanzas of the prayer. So, why would terrorists levy a war against the Catholic Church in Nigeria and the government is pretending to be helpless? The gruesome murder of hapless Catholic priests puts a lie to the claim by the government that there is no war of attrition against Nigerian Christians by radical Islamists.
These abductions and killings are going on because the government of the day is complicit. The Muslim community tacitly gives these terrorists cover. The government and the security forces know those behind these killings and where they are. After all, the Emir of Yandoton Daji, Aliyu Marafa, recently turbaned a wanted terrorist, Adamu Yankuzo (alias Ada Aleru), the Sarkin Fulani of the emirate. Aleru, leader of a terrorist militia that operates in parts of Zamfara and Katsina states, is notorious for his ruthlessness, and has been declared wanted by the police. Thousands of people have been killed in the two states and other neighbouring states by his gang.
Yet, the same government that arrested Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in faraway Kenya and brought him back to Nigeria to face trial continues to throw its hands in the air when it comes to Fulani terrorists. Aleru’s turbaning ceremony was attended by the Zamfara State Commissioner for Security and Home Affairs, Mamman Tsafe; security advisor to the governor, Abubakar Dauran; Tsafe Local Government Chairman, Aminu Mudi, and representatives of the information commissioner, district heads and other traditional title holders and government officials. Over 100 terrorists also attended and none was arrested.
The murder of Fr. Cheitnum is one killing too many and it proves one thing: the Nigerian state is not prepared to protect the Christian community. With this government, terrorists of whatever hue are in safe hands.