When priests become targets

Other clergymen carry body of the late Rev Fr. Tanko during the burial at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral Jalingo
Other clergymen carry body of the late Rev Fr. Tanko during the burial at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral Jalingo

The gory murder in Taraba

On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, some yet to be identified gunmen killed Rev. Fr. David Tanko, a 42-year-old Jukun native who was a priest at St. Peter’s parish, Amadu in Takum LGA of Taraba  State.


He met his death at Kpankufu village between Kasuwan Haske and Tortsee along Takum-Wukari road, one of the most dangerous roads in the state now.

Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the priest had been advocating peaceful resolution of the Tiv/Jukun crisis but the very crisis he worked tirelessly to help  resolve claimed his life.

It was gathered that Tanko was returning from a peace mission in Takum where he had brought the parties in the crisis to a round table discussion. He was murdered while on his way from Takum to his parish at Amadu.

The Takum-Wukari road, just like almost all roads in southern Taraba, has become a death trap following activities of armed militiamen who control the roads.  It was the first time a priest was killed since the beginning of the current Tiv/Jukun crisis which started on April 1 this year. Many people have been killed along the Wukari-Zaki Biam road, Wukari-Jalingo road, Wukari-Donga road and many other roads in the crisis areas.

The murder of Fr. David Tanko further exposed the level of hostility between the Tiv and Jukun, though nobody has taken responsibility for the killing.

The late priest was described by members of his congregation as a selfless and peace loving person.

What happened was almost similar to the 2001 Tiv /Jukun crisis during which many churches were destroyed along the Wukari-Jalingo road.  Thousands of Catholics paid their last respect to Rev. David Tanko at our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral, Jalingo on September 2.

The Bishop of Catholic Diocese, Jalingo, Most Rev. Charles Hammawa, who presided over the mass for his final interment, described him as a lover of peace who paid the supreme price in the most inhuman way.

His words, “We are only strengthened and comforted by our Christian faith of surrendering all things  to God, our faith in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

“Fr. David Tanko was part of the peace efforts initiated by the Bishop of the Diocese of Jalingo and me to help bring an end to the fight between the Tiv and Jukun.”

He said Fr. Tanko was the kind of person Nigeria needs to come out of the quagmire and mess the country is in today.

Bishop Hammawa charged government at all levels to be alive in their responsibility of protecting lives and property.

Also speaking, the Taraba State chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Isaiah Jirapye, said the death of Fr. Tanko was a great loss to the church.

Kaduna pastor killed despite ransom payment

A pastor of the Living Faith Church, Angwan Romi, Kaduna, Jeremiah Omolewa, was killed even after ransom was paid to release him and his wife.

Omolewa was abducted with his wife but the wife was later released by the kidnappers who initially demanded N50m as ransom.  His wife regained freedom after a reported payment of N3m ransom.

In another incident, kidnappers stormed the residence of the pastor in charge of Nagarta Baptist Church, Reverend Elisha Noma, in Angwan Makiri, near Udawa, Chikun LGA of Kaduna State and abducted him and his son.

The pastor’s son, Emmanuel Elisha, was later released while the man was taken away.

Elisha said 20 armed men broke into their house around 1:30am.

“They came around 1:30am, they were about 20 and started hitting at doors but nobody opened. They then forced their way into house and vandalised our property.

“They carted away some valuables including mobile phones and clothing from my mother’s box. They picked me together with my father. But after a while in the bush, I was released and went away.” After 15 days in captivity, the bandits later freed Reverend Elisha.

The chairman of Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Joseph Hayab, confirmed the release.

“Rev. Elisha Numan was released on Saturday night after two weeks in captivity. He was released after a ransom was paid following a series of negotiations with the bandits. We thank God for His mercies. We pray for God’s intervention in the calamity that seems to have befallen us as a nation.

“We will also continue to call on the government and the security agencies to do everything within their powers to stop the increasing spate of criminality across the country, especially the kidnappings,” Hayab said.

Priests endangered in Enugu

Enugu, nicknamed ‘Coal City State’, is gradually losing her peaceful status with the violent serial killings, even of priests. The brutal killing of Rev. Fr. Paul Offu, the parish priest of St  James The Greater Catholic Church, Ugbawka in Nkanu East LGA on Ihe-Agbudu road in Awgu LGA on Thursday, August 1, 2019  by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen seems to be one killing too many. A taxi driver, Kenneth Igwe from Okigwe in Imo State who ran into the murder scene was also dragged into the bush by the gunmen and killed. His decomposing corpse was found by security operatives on Sunday.

Before the murder of Fr. Offu, the parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Nomeh, Rev. Fr. Ikechukwu Ilo, was also attacked by suspected armed herdsmen on Nomeh-Nenwe road in Nkanu East LGA on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 while returning from Enugu.

“It happened like a movie. I had 50 litres of petrol in my vehicle and a refilled gas cylinder. They opened fire on me but I summoned the courage to drive through them, but they continued firing,” recounted Fr. Ilo during an interview while in hospital.

Ilo was quite fortunate. He escaped with bullet wounds while his car was riddled with bullets. He was quickly rushed to a specialist hospital for treatment. He said one of the bullets lodged in his right foot had been extracted and that he was recovering fast.

Fr. Offu’s murder triggered a massive protest by over 200 Catholic priests who marched from the Holy Ghost Cathedral through major roads to the Government House in Enugu where they expressed disappointment over the killing of their colleague and the growing insecurity in the state and Nigeria.

The  Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), denied that  Fulani herdsmen were responsible for the murder.

Waving placards with various inscriptions, such  as “Enough is Enough’’, “Catholic Priests are Target of Hoodlums,”  “We  Cannot be Living in Fear,”  “Government Must Address Security Challenge in Enugu’’ and “We Are Not Happy with Government,” the protesters given access to the Government  House where they emptied their hearts to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

The murder of Fr. Offu and the massive protest spurred Ugwuanyi to summon an emergency security meeting with heads of the various security agencies religious leaders and other relevant stakeholders in the state.

The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Simon Ortuanya, in a statement after the meeting, stated that the government had to send an Anti-kidnapping Bill to the State Assembly as an Executive Bill to ensure maximum security.

The state government equally resolved to immediately overhaul the Vigilante/ Neighbourhood Watch structure in the state for optimized service delivery, according to the SSG who added that  the Enugu State Neigbourhood Watch Law 2016 would be reviewed as well.

Ortuanya said the administration would employ 1,700 Forest Guards within 30 days, comprising 100 persons per Local Government Area, in compliance with the recent decision of the South East governors’ forum on community policing.

The State Commissioner of Police, Suleiman Balarabe, said that “the governor mandated the security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous act.”

The Catholic Bishop of  Enugu, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, who also briefed  newsmen on the development  explained  that the protest was to register the displeasure of the diocese over the incessant attacks on Catholic priests by hoodlums in the state, which had lasted for seven years.

Onaga   explained that the Catholic priests were simply demanding   more security,  stressing that if there were bad herdsmen in the state they should be fished out.

He said the attacks had become unbearable as the diocese lost a priest in March. He said he was killed by suspected armed herdsmen, recalling that  two weeks before then, another priest was shot in the state and was still  receiving  medical attention.

Onaga further said: “I am sorrowful and utterly disappointed on the security in the state. This year alone, we (diocese) have suffered some casualties. While we get worried when our priests are attacked is that it shows the level of insecurity other Nigerians face daily.

“We were shocked to see a priest that joined in our meeting yesterday afternoon in the bishop’s house very healthy and sound, being reported to have died.

“Everybody is so mad because it is becoming too constant, especially within the past six or seven years, we have suffered serious kidnapping of our priests.

“It is becoming too bad. In 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 our priests were kidnapped at various locations in the state. Only in 2017, we were given some breathing space. It continued in 2018 and this year, 2019, it is worse.

Recall that a Catholic priest, Rev Fr. Clement Ugwu, was kidnapped at about 9pm on March 13, 2019. He was reportedly dragged to an unknown place and shot dead by his kidnappers.

Ugwu’s abduction occurred right in front of the gate of St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno in Ezeagu LGA where he was parish priest. The kidnappers reportedly demanded N50m ransom and later reduced it to N20 million.  Later, his decomposing body was found in the bush about 20 km from where he was taken away.

Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Suleiman Balarabe told newsmen that the killers had been using the murdered priest’s ATM card to withdraw cash from his account.

Three priests killed in Benue

Benue State has suffered several forms of insecurity in recent times such as communal clashes, armed militia raids, banditry, herdsmen’s attacks and kidnapping, among others, in which several lives have been lost.

Among the casualties are priests who were cut down in their prime. At least three Roman Catholic priests in the state were killed within the past few years. The first  was Reverend Father Adeyi, who was kidnapped in April 2016 and killed by his abductors even after they collected a ransom from his family. The decomposed body of the kidnapped Vicar General of Otukpo Catholic Diocese in Benue state, which was found in a bush at Odoba village in Otukpa months after his abduction continues to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of those who knew him.

Fr. Adeyi was said to be returning from an outstation after conducting the Sunday Mass when he was abducted on April 24, 2016. His family had paid a ransom of N2million but he was never released.

He was kidnapped between Otukpa and Ugbokolo road in Ogbadibo and Okpokwu LGA.

Governor Samuel Ortom even placed a N5 million reward for any useful information that could lead to his rescue until the discovery of his remains almost three months after.

The remains of the cleric who was also the parish priest of St. Bernard Catholic Church, Okpoga in Okpokwu LGA was conveyed to Makurdi by security operatives and a forensic examination to determine his identity was carried out before burial.

Then, in April 2018, Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha were hacked to death by people believed to be herders.

The bad memories of the killings have continued to resonate in the minds of parishioners, friends, families, the government and people of the state.

A devout Catholic resident in Makurdi, Terhemba Agee, said their killings under whatever guise or name is condemnable.

“The thought of it alone is horrible. It brings bad memories each time I brood over the two priests killed in Mbalom. They were people I knew personally, one, I met at Mount St Gabriel’s Secondary School in my days as student of the institution.

“The memory of their gruesome murders hurts. Whenever I hear a priest is killed, the thoughts overwhelm my mind,” Agee said.

Another resident, Lawrence Sunday, said it was pathetic that priests are being hunted by outlaws. He expressed concern that priests are no longer secure to carry out their assignments without the interference of gunmen despite the biblical injunction that anointed servants of God should not be touched or harmed as they are His mouth piece.

Sunday said the manner in which priests now become victims showed that the country may as well be heading towards anarchy.

Similarly, Uche Nnorom thinks that the society has badly degenerated to such an extent that there is no more regard for ministers of God.

“It is a sign of the end time as the bible warned earlier that they (priests) would face greater persecution. It is regrettable for people to harm those God has chosen for His work, but they only succeeded in heaping curses on themselves and they are heading for perdition,” Nnorom added.

Our correspondent recalls that some gunmen on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 attacked worshippers while they were observing the 5:30am mass at St. Ignatius’ Catholic Church in Mbalom community of Gwer East LGA of Benue State, killing two priests and 17 parishioners.

Ever since, the gory scene of the incident has left a bitter memories in the minds of the Tiv speaking people of Ukpor-Ayar in Mbalom community.

The attackers also reportedly set buildings ablaze while villagers scampered for safety, leaving the community shattered and devastated even long after.

A native of the community, Joseph Mzemom, still feels bitter over the incident and appealed to security agencies to strengthen their networks around rural areas.


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