We strongly condemn the gruesome and barbaric murder of a Catholic priest, Rev. Father Isaac Achi, on Sunday, January 15, 2023. The assailants were said to have made strenuous attempts to gain entrance into his compound at Kafin Koro in Paikoro Local Government Area of Niger State. When they couldn’t easily penetrate, they set the entire building ablaze. Achi, who was the parish priest of SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin Koro, died in the process. His colleague, Father Collins Ume, who was with him in the house, managed to escape with bullet wound.
There had been two other unsuccessful attempts on the life of Father Achi. He was on the pulpit as the parish priest in charge of St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madella, in Suleja Local Government Area of Niger State when terrorists bombed the church on December 25, 2011. They killed over 40 worshippers. In 2013, gunmen kidnapped him and kept him in captivity for one week. He regained his freedom after payment of ransom.
In this current incident, the police couldn’t rescue him despite alleged several distress calls and in spite of the long hours it took the terrorists to commit the atrocity. In anger, the youths of the area went on the rampage barely three days after the incident and burnt the police station in the area.
The motive behind the killing of Achi is not very certain yet. The cleric was said to have been very critical in his sermons against growing insecurity in the country, especially in his area. Kafin Koro and its environs are said to have been under severe attacks by gunmen in recent times. A number of people have been killed, some others abducted and only released after payment of huge ransom.
Father Achi has added to the list of Catholic priests who have been killed in recent times in Nigeria. According to a recent report by a United Kingdom-based global Catholic charity organisation, Aid to the Church in Need, at least four Catholic priests were killed and 28 others abducted in Nigeria in 2022. Among those murdered by terrorists were a Kaduna-based priest, Rev. Fr. Vitus Borogo and an Edo State-based priest, Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia. Among the kidnapped victims were Rev. Fr. Abraham Kunat, who was kidnapped in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna in November last year, and the chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital, Fr. Mark Ojotu, who was kidnapped on Okpoga-Ojapo Road in Benue State in December last year. This year, the situation has not abated. On January 14, for instance, Rev. Fr. Michael Olofinlade, was reportedly kidnapped in Ekiti State.
Aside from the killing and abduction of clerics, there have been vicious attacks on worship centres in recent times. Last year, some terrorists invaded St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, and killed over 40 worshippers. Several others were seriously wounded. The attackers were said to have operated for about 30 minutes without any response from any of the security agencies.
These terrorists have no respect for mosques either. In 2021, they stormed a mosque at Ba’are village in Mashegu Local Government Area of Niger State, killing 16 worshippers and seriously wounding many others. They had earlier carried out a similar attack at Maza Kuka village of the same local government leading to the death of 18 worshippers who were observing their Subhi prayers. All this could trigger religious uprising if not checked.
It is pertinent to note that no place is sacred as far as the terrorists are concerned. In 2022, they attacked a military base in Birnin Gwari Council of Kaduna State and gunned down 11 soldiers after a fierce gun battle. In August 2021, bandits invaded the Nigerian Defence Academy, killed two officers and abducted another in Kaduna. Similar attacks have occurred in military bases in Niger State and elsewhere. They have also attacked train stations, airport, and commercial buses.
It is obvious that the country is degenerating dangerously. Things are really going off the cliff. Protection of life and property is the primary responsibility of government. But in Nigeria currently, human life doesn’t matter anymore. We call on the government and the security agencies to do much more than they are doing now. Terrorism and banditry have festered in Nigeria because we have not seen stringent actions taken against the terrorists.
As we have always said, there is need to decentralise policing in Nigeria. The central police as we have now can no longer handle the issue of insecurity in the country.
While we join the Catholic Church and other well-meaning Nigerians to mourn the murder of Fr. Achi and other innocent victims of terrorism in Nigeria, we call on the police to thoroughly investigate every crime and ensure that the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a full scale emergency against terrorism in the country. Our soldiers should be fully equipped and motivated to face the terrorists. We have lost many precious lives in this country and cannot afford to lose more.