(CP) Terrorists have killed 23 pastors and forced the closure of more than 200 churches in Nigeria's Kaduna State over the past four years, according to the Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kaduna State.
Rev. Hayab shared these figures during a meeting with Commissioner of Police Musa Garba and other pastors, according to Sahara Reporters, adding that the meeting was organized to discuss the ongoing crisis affecting the Christian community in the state.
"A pastor who was kidnapped on Aug. 8 told the CAN leadership that there are over 215 Christians abducted by the bandits in Birnin Gwari forest. They are still there," Hayab said at the meeting, according to Vanguard. He then urged the commissioner of police to address these and other issues to restore public confidence.
Former Secretary General of the Evangelical Church Winning All, the Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, and other pastors at the meeting also called for action against religious leaders promoting hate speech. They urged the police to investigate those selling hard drugs, linking substance abuse to criminal activities in the state.
Commissioner Garba responded by emphasizing that criminality has no religious affiliation. "Security is the responsibility of all and not only that of the government," he was quoted as saying. Garba added that the meeting was aimed at strengthening the relationship between the police and religious leaders and to discuss potential solutions to the ongoing issues.
Kaduna State is one of six states in North-West Nigeria severely impacted by bandit activities. Hundreds have been killed and several others kidnapped in the last four years.
Hayab specifically mentioned that over 115 Baptist churches were forced to shut down in areas ranging from Birni Gwari to Chukun and Kajuru. "When you go to many churches now you will see many pastors who come from churches that have been shut down because they cannot continue," he said.
The crisis has forced various denominations, including ECWA, Assemblies of God and the Catholic Church, to close their doors. "We are forced to shut down because of insecurity in Kaduna State," Hayab said in a statement.
Late last week, the house of a Catholic priest inside St. Rachael's Parish was set ablaze in a suspected terrorist attack near a major highway and a military checkpoint in Kaduna state's Fadan Kamantan area, resulting in the death of a young seminarian, Naam Ngofe Danladi, trapped in the fire, The Punch reported.
Two priests managed to escape the blaze, but the seminarian perished.
The military arrived only after the assailants fled and the church was destroyed, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a statement.
Last month, two Christians were kidnapped in Kaduna state, two days after gunmen described as terrorists killed a Baptist pastor in another area of the state.
Terrorists invaded the predominantly Christian community of Wusasa, Zaria, and kidnapped the two Christians, brothers Yusha'u Peter and Joshua Peter, staff members of St. Luke's Anglican Hospital in Wusasa, a community leader in the area said at the time.
The persecution of Christians in Nigeria is particularly severe, with 90% of the over 5,600 Christians killed for their faith worldwide last year being Nigerian, according to persecution watchdog group Open Doors.
In its latest International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department noted a spike in deadly violence impacting both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. The NGO Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project reported there were 3,953 civilian deaths from violence across the country in 2022.
"There continued to be frequent violent incidents, particularly in the northern part of the country, affecting both Muslims and Christians, resulting in numerous deaths," the State Department's report on Nigeria said.
"Kidnappings and armed robbery by criminal gangs increased in the South as well as the North West, the South, and the Southeast. The international Christian organization Open Doors stated that terrorist groups, militant herdsmen, and criminal gangs were responsible for large numbers of fatalities, and Christians were particularly vulnerable."
Nigerian Christians and human rights groups have voiced concerns for years that the violence carried out against predominantly Christian farming communities in the Middle Belt states by radicalized herdsmen has reached genocidal levels, as thousands have been killed in recent years.
However, the Nigerian government has rejected claims that the violence is influenced by religious conflicts and insists it's part of decades-old farmer-herder clashes. Data cited by the U.S. State Department suggests that violence targeting Christians accounts for a small fraction of the killings.