Christian woman killed, raped in Nigerian church while studying, family says

Uwaila Vera Omozuwa
Uwaila Vera Omozuwa | Omozuwa family

A 22-year-old Nigerian Christian student was raped and killed while she was in her church studying last Wednesday, family members have said. 

Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, a University of Benin microbiology student, died last Saturday, two days after she was attacked inside the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Benin city, the capital of the Edo state in southern Nigeria. 

Omozuwa, a member of the church's choir, was found half-naked lying in a pool of blood by a security guard, family members told media outlets. 

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"She wanted to be a minister and preach the word of God," Omozuwa's sister, Judith, told CNN, explaining that the church was her favorite place to be. "That she was murdered where she always found peace is just devastating."

Police have arrested one suspect believed to be connected to Omozuwa's murder. Edo Police Command spokesperson Chidi Nwabuzor told Nigerian media that the suspect was detained after the fingerprints found on the fire extinguisher she was attacked with were analyzed. 

"The item used in the assault, which was a fire extinguisher, was recovered, immediately the operatives who were with some specialists screened the fingerprints which led to our suspect," Nwabuzor was quoted as saying. "Around the place of the incident, the suspect was arrested."

RCCG General Overseer Pastor Enoch Adeboye said in a statement released on social media that the denomination worked with authorities to ensure they "bring the perpetrators to book." RCCG is one of the largest Christian denominations in Nigeria.

"I and members of my Family condemn this act strongly and urge everyone to stay calm as we are already looking into the matter and cooperating with the police to establish the facts of the shocking incident," Adeboye wrote. 

Reports of the woman's murder have sparked the hashtag trend #JusticeforUwa. Her death has sparked a national outcry.

Throughout Nigeria, many women and girls have been kidnapped, raped and killed by various actors, including Islamic militants, radical herdsmen and criminal gangs. Women and girls also suffer from acts of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The U.N.'s Children's Fund found in 2014 that about one-in-four girls have been victims of sexual violence in Nigeria. 

Osai Ojigho, the director for Amnesty International in Nigeria, told The Guardian that Omozuwa's case has garnered so much attention because "even in the spaces that women and girls should be safest from gender-based violence, the home, the schools and now places of worship, it is getting there."

While family members said medics told them Omozuwa was raped, CNN reports that authorities in Nigeria have not yet ruled the incident as rape but are instead describing it as an "inhumane sexual assault."

"It shows how police are unwilling to even investigate rape cases and will rather probe murder allegations," Ojigho said. "Both are heinous crimes and none should be dismissed for the other."

Christians are frequently killed in Nigeria by different factions. 

Omozuwa's death came less than a week before the murders of the Rev. Emmanuel Bileya and his wife, Juliana, in the Taraba State of Nigeria on Monday while on their farm. 

Bileya, a pastor with the Christian Reformed Church in the Donga local government area, studied at Calvin Seminary in Michigan and was in the final stages of a doctoral program at Robert E. Webber Institute of Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida.

A recent estimate from the nongovernmental organization International Society for Civil Liberty & Rule of Law suggests that over 620 Christians have been killed in Nigeria so far in 2020, while thousands have been killed in recent years. 

Nigeria was added to the U.S. State Department's "special watch list" of countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom for the first time last December and is ranked as the 12th-worst country in the world for Christian persecution by Open Doors USA. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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