ABUJA, Nigeria — Islamic terrorists in southern Nigeria kidnapped four nuns on Sunday, three days after suspected Fulani herdsmen shot a Christian attorney to death in the country’s northwest, sources said.
Benedict Azza, director of the legal department of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Zamfara State Chapter, was killed when gunmen on Thursday shot him at his home in Gussau, capital of Zamfara state, residents said.
“His corpse was abandoned by the roadside in the town,” said Luka Maitausayi in a text message to Morning Star News, asserting that the gunmen were Fulani herdsmen. “It is our prayer that God comforts his family and the church.”
Area resident John Yusufu said the terrorists broke into Azza’s home, abducted him, shot him dead and abandoned his body by the roadside in Gussau.
Junaidu Abubakar, chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Zamfara State Chapter, confirmed the killing in a press statement. Abubakar said two gunmen on a motorcycle tried to kidnap him at his house in the Saminaka area, but he fled.
“He drove his vehicle and ran to the roadside,” Abubakar said. “The gunmen pursued him and shot him dead. Azza’s neighbors said they heard some gunshots in the area, and after a while they also heard a loud sound of a vehicle accident. When they came out and rushed to the scene, they saw B.T. Azza opening his vehicle’s door, came out and walked to the main road where he sat down, and he started bleeding and he died instantly.”
The gunmen fled after shooting Azza three times, he said.
Azza was from Yelewatta, Makurdi, Benue state and was “married to Izuagie Rachael and blessed with children,” Abubakar said.
In Imo state, southeast Nigeria, Islamic terrorists suspected of working with Fulani herdsmen on Sunday morning kidnapped four Roman Catholic nuns as they traveled in the Okigwe-Umulolo area, the Rev. Sister Zita Ihedoro, secretary-general of the Sisters of Jesus the Saviour, said in a press statement.
Johannes Nwodo, Christabel Echemazu, Liberata Mbamalu and Benita Agu were abducted while “on their way for a thanksgiving Mass of one of our sisters,” Ihedoro said. “We implore for intense prayer for their quick and safe release.”
Emmanuel Onwubiko, national coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said that recurrent killings and kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria are a sign of failure for President Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is worrisome that despite the killing of over 12 Catholic priests in 2022 and the abduction of scores of Catholic priests all over the country, the present regime and security agencies have left the ugly trend to continue,” Onwubiko said in a statement.
ISWAP threatens forced marriage
A top commander of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has indicated he will forcibly marry a Christian university student who was kidnapped along with others after ISWAP attacked a train from Abuja to the city of Kaduna in March, sources said.
Azurfa Lois John, 21, a third-year student at Kaduna State University, was kidnapped on the evening of March 28 after ISWAP bombed the train, along with more than 60 other passengers.
Mallam Tukur Mamu, a media consultant and publisher of Nigerian newspaper The Desert Herald, disclosed the commander’s intention to forcibly marry John in a statement on Friday. Mamu, an aide to Muslim cleric Ahmad Gumi in the city of Kaduna, has negotiated the release of dozens of the train passengers who were taken captive, most of them Muslims.
In his statement, Mamu called on the Nigerian government and the CAN to make urgent efforts to secure the release of John, as the ISWAP commander has decided to marry her without her consent.
“This is to alert the federal government and especially the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that I can confirm through credible information at my disposal that if urgent action is not taken to immediately secure the release of the youngest victim of the train attack, 21-year-old Azurfa Lois John, the abductors as they have done in the case of Leah Sharibu are planning to marry her any moment from now,” Mamu said. “One of the top commanders is said to be in love with her. This important information should be treated with the urgency it deserves. Even though I know that releasing this information will not only unsettle her immediate family and loved ones but Nigerians as a whole, it is necessary to do so to avoid the repeat of Leah Sharibu’s case.”
An Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram in 2016 formally aligned with the Islamic State and changed its name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), though many Nigerians still refer to the Shekau-led faction of ISWAP by its original name, Boko Haram. The Islamic State recognizes the ISWAP faction that broke away from Shekau as its cell in the region, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year (Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021) at 4,650, up from 3,530 the previous year, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List report. The number of kidnapped Christians was also highest in Nigeria, at more than 2,500, up from 990 the previous year, according to the WWL report.
Nigeria trailed only China in the number of churches attacked, with 470 cases, according to the report.
In the 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to seventh place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 9 the previous year.