Christian children fleeing from gunmen saved their lives by hiding among the rock formations towering over the eastern side of this northern village, but a 6-month-old baby and a 13-year-old girl never got the chance.
The infant, Alexander Blessed, and the girl, Happiness Adamu, were the youngest of five people from five churches who were slain. Christians were still gathered in and about a home where a funeral for the village chief had taken place in the predominantly Muslim state of Kaduna when, under cover of darkness on a Saturday night (Feb. 23), marauding, black-clad gunmen arrived from the west and began firing.
Eleven Christians were hospitalized with wounds, including Martha Blessed, who was shot as she tried to protect her infant son. Bullets broke both legs of another 13-year-old Christian girl, Gloria Livinus, of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Aduwan.
The raid came as a shock as area Christians had been living without enmity toward anyone, said John Audi, 45-year-old grandson of the village chief and a member of St. Patrick’s church.
“We were all scattered, and some that were shot were crying,” he told Morning Star News. “We all ran for cover where we believed we could avoid being hit by the bullets.”
Witnesses reportedly said the gunmen spoke in Fulani dialect, but church leaders said the area had been free of the land and property conflicts that have marked relations between Muslim, ethnic Fulanis and predominantly Christian tribes. Islamic extremist groups have increasingly incited Fulani Muslims to attack Christian areas, and witnesses reportedly said the assailants carried sophisticated weapons.
Area church leaders questioned how the shooting could have gone on for three hours without response from authorities in a north-central state that has been blanketed with military security forces to counteract terrorist violence.
“This village was attacked for three hours, yet no help came to our people here,” said the Rt. Rev. Danlami Bello, bishop of the First African Church, Kafanchan Diocese, whose headquarters are in Aduwan. “These attacks have gone unhindered without security agencies coming to the scenes of the attacks to assist Christian victims.”
As did others, he suspected a strong religious element to the attack.
“There is no doubt that this attack, like many others on Christian communities in northern Nigeria, had religious bearings,” he said. “There is this desire by Muslim leaders in Nigeria to Islamize the country by force; hence the attacks are aimed at forcing Christians into submitting to Islam.”
The Rev. Casmir Yabo, vicar of the First African Church Mission in Aduwan, told Morning Star News that church members who hid in farmlands west of the village reported seeing about 10 assailants leaving after the attack.
“We believe that the attackers are Muslim Fulani gunmen who invaded and attacked this village. I wept as I saw corpses of the five killed for no justifiable reason,” said Yabo. “The impact of the attack is that at the moment our members are scared of coming to churches for worship services.”
The attack came two days after a similar slaughter of 10 people in village near Jos in Plateau state.
Besides hit-and-run attacks by Fulani Muslims, Christians in Nigeria have also been targeted by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group in its effort to destabilize the government and impose sharia (Islamic law) nationwide. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and reside primarily in the north. Nigerians practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
Raymond Markus, 31-year-old uncle to Happiness Adamu, told Morning Star News that the villagers had no reason to expect the onslaught.
“We were all gathered here while prayers were being said when suddenly, we were attacked,” he said. “We all ran in different directions. We are still in shock about this attack.”
He said that his slain niece was a faithful servant of Christ.
“It is a painful thing to lose such a brilliant teenager,” Markus said. “She was an obedient child and was committed in church activities; a very hard working church member.”
Markus took a Morning Star News correspondent to the auditorium of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in the village, where the gunmen unsuccessfully tried to set off a bomb blast. A chemical substance used to make the bomb remained on the walls of the church building; it left cracks that could collapse the structure at any moment.
Alice Saul, 45-year-old member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Rebok village, lost her 22-year-old son, Felix Saul, in the attack. She said he was a final-year student at a public high school in Wadon village and a member of the church choir.
Also killed were Theresa Bulus, 35, a member of the Baptist Church in the town of Kagaro, and Yacham Ayuba, 20, a member of the First African Church Mission, in Madobiya village.
Christians injured in the attack included Joshua Kazah, Kazah Bitrus, Shagari Bako, Ahuwan Thomas, Cecilia Elisha, Denise Maliki and Stephen Alpha, sources said.
“At the end of the attack, which lasted about three hours, five Christians from different churches who had congregated here for prayers for the deceased had died, while 11 others sustained injuries,” said Audi.
Bishop Bello called for sustained prayer for Christians in northern Nigeria, and he urged Christians worldwide to call on their governments to assist the Nigerian government to defend against such attacks.
Vicar Yabo said the rock formations protecting the village’s eastern flank saved many lives.
“One miraculous thing is that the rocky hills on the eastern part of this village became a place of refuge for those who escaped from the attack,” he said. “Even children who had never climbed these hills before suddenly were able to escape by climbing the hills at night.”