A monastic community has joined with local villagers to hunt for the body of a “kindly” young monk murdered during a six-day kidnap ordeal in Eruku, Western Nigeria this week.
Brother Godwin Eze, was one of three young Roman Catholic novices abducted amidst horrific violence in a dawn assault on the Annunciation Benedictine monastery on the morning of October 17th.
In the days following the abduction, the gang telephoned the monastery and delivered religious lectures to the monks as they demanded a ransom.
“They were saying, ‘Why are you worshipping Jesus?'” recounts Fr. Anselm Lawani, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ilorin, in Kwara State, Western Nigeria. “You are wasting your time praying to him. You are worshipping an idol.'”
The gang eventually murdered Brother Godwin Eze, before releasing Brother Anthony Eze and Brother Peter Olarewaju back to the monastery.
The community’s ordeal began over a week ago, when a gang of nine men wielding AK47s attacked the monastery grounds, blasting open the doors with gunfire.
The gunmen – who the victims described as radicalised Fulani bandits – seized the younger members of the order: Brother Godwin Eze and two young trainees, Brother Anthony Eze and Brother Peter Olarewaju.
The captives were marched into woodlands and subjected to days of torture and beatings before Brother Godwin was selected for murder. The three were made to lie down with their hands tied, and Brother Godwin was shot. The two younger men were forced at gunpoint to carry his body and throw it into a tributary of the River Arun.
The two surviving novices were eventually released and are now being treated in hospital for serious injuries. The monastery has been evacuated, but local people say the surrounding villages remain convulsed by fear.
“The community here is still struggling with the trauma of what has occurred,” said Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi of the Diocese of Ilorin. “Christians are now facing terrible choices in Nigeria. They are being targeted.”
It is just the latest in a sharp upsurge of abductions and killings targeting Christian communities in Nigeria, dubbed Nigeria’s ‘clergy abduction spree”.
There have been occasions in the past when fundamentalist Islamist groups have also attacked traditional moderate Sufi Muslim communities.
The proliferation of lethal networks of Islamist jihadi groups such as Boko Haram, armed Fulani militants and heavily armed kidnap gangs make Nigeria one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian.
Nigeria is placed at number 7 on the Open Doors World Watch List, an annual study ranking countries in which it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
“Kidnapping is a surging industry in Nigeria,” notes Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, the Christian persecution charity. “It’s clear that many of these kidnapping gangs are operating with links to violent jihadist networks, such as Fulani militant groups.”
In the Annunciation monastery case, the Fulani kidnappers delivered explicit religious instruction to the monks, whilst extorting them at the same time.
Earlier in October, three nuns of the Missionary Daughters of the Mater Ecclesiae in Imo State were kidnapped, together with a seminarian and a driver as they made their way to a funeral.
Days earlier, Fr. Marcellinus Okide was kidnapped in Enugu State. Also, in September of this year, 25 church choristers in Akure, Ondo State, of the Christ Apostolic Church, were kidnapped as they made their way to a church burial.
In 2022 alone, 30 Roman Catholic priests were targeted and kidnapped, and 39 were murdered, according to the global security research group, SB Morgan.
The scale of attacks on Christian communities is such that only the highest profile events – such as the gunning down of 50 Christian worshippers in a Pentecost Sunday prayer service in Owo, in 2020 – reach the Western media.