The bloodthirsty bandits causing havoc across the country recently took a new approach in launching their attacks as worship centres, particularly churches seem to be their new targets.
In less than a month, Nigeria has recorded several attacks in churches leading to the killing of worshippers and abduction of clerics, especially Catholic Priests.
Recall that on May 25, two Catholic priests and two of their cooks were kidnapped by gunmen at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, Kafur Local Government Area of Katsina State.
The Priests, Rev. Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr Oliver Okpara who were abducted when the assailants invaded the parish, are yet to regain freedom at the time of filing this report.
Similarly, a Catholic Priest, Reverend Father Christopher Onotu was kidnapped by gunmen at Obangede, Okehi Local Government Area of Kogi State on June 5. The Priest was whisked away from his room when the criminal elements invaded the church area at about 9 pm.
Barely twelve hours later, gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen attacked the St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state on June 6, opened fire on unarmed worshippers and gunned down 40 persons while others sustained various degrees of injuries.
The remains of the 40 worshippers were interred amid tears on Friday, June 17.
The St Mary Catholic Church, Owukpa in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State was also attacked a few days ago when suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded the church premises to kidnap the priest.
It can also be recalled that the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Kanu-Uche, was kidnapped on May 29 when he was attacked in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State.
Barely three days in the kidnapper’s den, Kanu-Uche was, however, released by his abductors after a N100 million ransom was paid.
It was observed that the development has kept several Christians away from church gatherings as fear of attacks continues.
A pastor attached to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG in Bwari Area Council Abuja who gave his name simply as Pastor Dapo, revealed that the number of worshippers drastically reduced since the Owo church attack.
He said, “People don’t come to church anymore for the fear of being attacked and killed. If you look at the recent attacks in churches across the country, you will be forced to believe that the war is against the church.
“When last did you hear of attacks in Mosques or any Islamic gathering? It has always been the church. Members can choose not to come to church but what will the pastors do? Should we shut down the church? We take the risk and put our lives in danger”.
Similarly, a pastor of Deeper Life Church who spoke to our correspondent in Abuja on conditions of anonymity called on the Federal Government to beef up security around churches, particularly during Sunday worship.
According to him, “Life of Nigerians no longer matters to some people. As it is currently, no one is safe. The government should provide security for worshippers even if it is for Sunday service alone so that those coming in can be sure of their safety.
“People don’t pray with their eyes closed anymore due to fear of attacks. Unfortunately, a church that is supposed to be a place of safety, is now the target of attackers”.
It was observed that almost all centres of the Living Faith Church have beefed-up security around the church to prevent unprovoked attacks on unsuspecting worshippers.
Another respondent, Mr Adikwu Michael, a member of the Dunamis Gospel Center said that he no longer worships in church on Sunday over the fear of attacks.
He said, “The church is now their target so I decided to worship God in my house. God is everywhere, you must not be in church before God hears your prayer.
“For now, I will be worshipping online right from my house until they stop invading churches”.