Nigeria: Priest escapes 'unhurt' after gunmen open fire on car in murder attempt

Fulani herdsmen killings
Protesters gather during a demonstration against Fulani herdsmen killings, in Abuja, Nigeria March 16, 2017. |

A priest in the Enugu state of Nigeria escaped a murder attempt at the hands of gunmen who shot up his car just weeks after the killing of another priest led to a massive demonstration for security in the state. 

The Rev. Chimezie Ani told Morning Star News that he was driving near the Roman Catholic Caritas University in Amorji-Nike in the Enugu state last Thursday when he was attacked by men he said were radical Fulani herdsmen. The perpetrators were described as “unidentified gunmen” in media reports

“I was driving when suddenly the herdsmen, who were armed, shot at my vehicle, aiming at the windshield,” Ani told the nonprofit news service devoted to reporting on the persecution of Christians. 

Ani said he put the car in reverse as fast as he could upon noticing the gunmen in hopes of driving away unscathed. 

“The bullets from them broke my windshield and riddled the car all over,” Ani was quoted as describing. “I miraculously escaped unhurt. They retreated into the bushes after realizing I escaped from them.”

Ani said he was on his way to Ugwuomu. He explained that there have been herdsmen attacking Christian communities along the stretch of highway for “some time now.”

He stressed that he was “sure” that the men he saw “were herdsmen.” Fulani herdsmen are from nomadic herding communities that have historically had land conflicts with Christian farming communities in southern Nigeria. 

But in recent years, Christian advocates say the severity and number of deadly attacks launched by radical Fulani against farming communities have increased. Such attacks have seen dozens of homes and buildings burned, leaving thousands of people dead and Christian farming communities homeless

The alleged attack against Ani follows the death of the Rev. Paul Offu, another priest in the Enugu Diocese, who was killed in early August by gunmen who were also suspected of being Fulani radicals. 

Offu’s funeral, which was held earlier this week, was attended by the Enugu state Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Offu was the priest at St. James parish in Nkanu East local government area. 

After Offu’s death, dozens if not hundreds of priests marched through the streets of Enugu to protest the priest’s death and call for security for the Christian community outside the statehouse in Enugu. 

Following that protest, Ugwuanyi called a special security meeting with all the heads of security agencies in the state. But the Nigerian digital media outlet Legit reports that it is not clear if the meeting was related to Offu’s killing. 

Even before Offu’s death, the Enugu Catholic community was already horrified over the kidnapping and killing of Rev. Clement Ugwu in March.

The Punch reports that Enugu State Police Command paraded those suspected of killing Offu along with 30 others charged with other criminal offenses last Friday. Police Commissioner Suleiman Balarabe told the outlet that 25-year-old Ibrahim Adamu and 28-year-old Idris Tobe were arrested in connection with Offu’s murder.

Balarabe also vowed to soon arrest those responsible for the attempted murder of Ani and assured that his “command had devised measures to protect Catholic priests from such incidents in the future.”

The police command also reportedly paraded those suspected of kidnapping the traditional ruler of Obom-Agbogugu and his wife on Aug. 3 while traveling along the Enugu-Port-Harcourt Expressway. 

Across the country, many people have been attacked while traveling on Nigeria’s dangerous roadways in recent years. As the National Catholic Register notes, criminals have targeted businessmen and individuals from wealthy homes for ransom and are many times killed or assaulted when ransoms are not paid.

Additionally, religious leaders have been kidnapped to demand ransoms from congregations.  

In Kaduna state, the Rev. John Bako Shekwolo was kidnapped just weeks after the killing of Ugwu in Enugu state. 

In August, pastor Jeremiah Omolara of Living Faith Church was killed in Kaduna while he was traveling on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway. The pastor’s wife was abducted while their son was able to escape during the attack. 

Joseph Hayab, the chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said at the time that Christians “are just not safe anywhere.”

“[W]e are asking the same question we have been asking: 'where are our security agencies?'" Hayab told reporters, according to The Daily Post. 

Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. 

In July, the international human rights advocacy group Jubilee Campaign sent a report to the International Criminal Court arguing that the standard for genocide pertaining to the treatment of Christians in Nigeria has been met. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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