(OSV News) — In an endless cycle of violence against Christians in Nigeria, seminarian Na’Aman Danlami Stephen of the Diocese of Kafanchan was burned to death on Sept. 7 when a terrorist group called Fulani herdsmen attacked the rectory at St. Raphael Church in Fadan Kamantan.
Bishop Julius Kundi of Kafanchan told the Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need that the parish priest, Father Emmanuel Okolo, and the assistant priest were able to escape the fire at the rectory, while the 25-year-old seminarian died in the attack.
Reactions to the killing have been pouring in on the official Facebook page of the diocese.
Doreen Yenlat said: “May God Almighty grant you eternal rest, to your killers, peace of mind shall be far away from them until they turn away from their evil deeds.”
Yachat Joseph asked Christ to support Christians in his land: “Fight this battle for us Jesus Christ.” And Agatha Stephen said simply: “May your soul find rest with your Creator.”
Bishops meeting for their 2023 plenary in the capital city of Abuja celebrated Mass Sept. 10 in memory of the seminarian.
Prayers for the seminarian
“We offer this Mass for the happy repose of Na’Aman Danlami Stephen, the seminarian who was killed two days ago when bandits attacked and burnt the rectory in (Fadan) Kamantan. … We pray also for all those who have suffered similar fate and for peace in Nigeria,” said Father Michael Banjo, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
In his homily, Bishop Kundi thanked his fellow bishops for their solidarity and prayers “during this sad and dark moment in the diocese.”
The Rev. John Hayab, who is the cleric of the Nigerian Baptist Convention and is involved in the Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, condemned the attack on the parish, saying: “It is very sad that killings and this type of evil are still going on.”
Christians attacked, killed
He was just “sleeping at night in the peace of Christ,” Father Stan Chu Ilo said about the seminarian. The priest is a research professor of African Christianity at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University in Chicago.
Speaking on the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network, Father Ilo said the killing of the seminarian was “one death too many in my homeland Nigeria where the blood of the innocent continues to be shed, where so many people are being killed, many Christian churches are being burnt down, many Christians are attacked in their places of worship.”
“My heart goes out to the Diocese of Kafanchan and the family of Na’Aman,” he added.
The latest killing is just one in a long list of attacks that have targeted churches and Christians in Africa’s most populous nation, and Kafanchan in particular has been hit hard by the kidnapping of clergy, seminarians and other Christians.
In a recent act of violence, Father Jeremiah Yakubu, of Holy Trinity Parish in Karku, was kidnapped on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 11, but he was released the next day.
According to a January report by the research organization SB Morgen Intelligence, not fewer than 39 Catholic priests were killed by gunmen in 2022, while 30 others were abducted. The report also showed that 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded within the same period.
Meanwhile, an April 10 report by Intersociety said that more than 50,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria over the last 14 years.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto in northern Nigeria told OSV News that his own diocese “has lost one seminarian, one priest and two others were kidnapped. This ordeal has been ongoing for almost 10 years running,” he emphasized.
Difficulties for Christians
“Nigeria has been a difficult place for its citizens after years and years of misrule and outright banditry at the highest levels as those in power have turned governance into a purely criminal enterprise by the mindless looting of the treasury by successive governments,” Bishop Kukah said.
“The last administration was the worst in our history, combining nepotism, policies of exclusion and the undue favoritism of the northern Muslim elite. The last president created a conducive environment for the spread of extremist Islamic groups who saw his stance on Islam as giving a signal to them. Thus, it was merely a question of strategies for Islamic supremacy,” he said.
He explained that the last president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, who finished his term this May, “inherited this situation” and “worsened it.”
“All the security chiefs were Muslims, he removed a sitting Supreme Court justice who was a Christian and appointed a Muslim, the minister for Internal Affairs, the heads of Immigration and Customs charged with protecting our borders were all Muslims! So, if you ask how effective the security forces were, under a Muslim leadership, fighting Islamic extremist groups, I do not know what you will make of that, but these facts should make you have your conclusions,” Bishop Kukah wrote in an e-mail exchange with OSV News.
“The new president appointed new security chiefs, and we have seen a great departure from the past,” Bishop Kukah said of President Bola Tinubu. “We do not know whether out of frustration with the loss of power, these groups will become more desperate, but we believe we have a fair chance that things might change.”
Meanwhile, Father Ilo told OSV News that “these militants who are pursuing an asymmetrical warfare against their own people and against the state are the collateral damage of our politics.”
“We have turned our young people into angry men because we have not given them jobs, education, skills and moral rectitude. So, rather than being in schools, factories and offices or farms, they are living in bushes like wild animals and filled with so much anger, hatred and bitterness that their lives mean nothing to them nor do the lives of fellow citizens mean anything to them,” he said.
“I lay the blame squarely on our failed leaders,” he emphasized.