(Vatican Radio) Gunmen fired on a worship service in a church in central Nigeria on Monday night, killing at least 19 people – including the pastor – and wounding several others. The attack targeted a Deeper Life protestant church in Kogi state, about 250 kilometers southwest of Nigeria's capital Abuja. Soldiers searched for gunmen through the night, but had made no arrests as of Tuesday morning, Olorunyomi said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, says the attack was unusual: “The attack is against a Pentecostal church, and it is not on a Sunday, which is the usual day that these people attack churches. It was on a Monday evening, a Bible knowledge program. Which means it was at a time when the church was not particularly guarded. The usual security measures, I’m sure, were not put in place on Monday evening like they would have been put in place on Sunday service.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan expresses his concern about the nature of the attack: “It’s a pity, too, because this has happened in the middle of the country, in the state of Kogi, just very close to the confluence of the river Niger and Benue, south of Abuja. So we are not talking now of an attack in the far north of Nigeria, rather in the middle of Nigeria.” Noting that the town of Okene, where the attack took place, is predominantly Muslim, he called on the Islamic community to help identify the assailants.
He says, “It is not possible that we religious leaders should go and buy arms or train soldiers to protect us. We have to rely on the state to protect us, and to do its duty. The Nigerian state has been trying, but not enough. But there has been an improvement in its approach to the security situation we have on the ground.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan says it is important to realise that “this matter is not a matter of religion alone, even though it has a religious dimension. There is also the political dimension, people who are engaged in a political agenda. But it is a political agenda that they find it easy to camouflage in religious terms. This political dimension needs to be properly and clearly addressed, this time also by the government.”
Finally, the Archbishop appeals for prayers: “We ask our listeners, those who are listening to us, especially our Christians and Catholics to continue to pray for us so that our faith may be strong. Because with a strong faith we can always continue to practice our faith, even though there are dangers. The dangers are not everywhere. These are sporadic attacks, such that they can hardly ever be predicted. You don’t know where they are going to attack next. It is not possible to stop every possible attack. But when it comes, we thank God that people will be in line with their God. That is all we can say for the moment. We hope that this matter will pass sooner (rather) than later. Continue to pray for us!”
Listen to the complete remarks of Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja: