JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Upset that watchmen of a Catholic Church in Kaduna state on Sunday (March 8) set up a road-block as a security measure, Nigerian soldiers killed five church members, eyewitnesses said.
Shortly after opening fire on St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Gidan-Waya, the soldiers shot and killed a Christian from another church as he returned to his home near the site in the Jama’a Local Government Area of southern Kaduna, they said. In the clash that ensued between soldiers and area residents, a soldier was reportedly killed and several people were injured.
Worshippers were celebrating Mass at about 10 a.m. when a soldier ordered the watchmen, church members known as Cadets, to remove the road-blocks, parish member Christopher Mamman told Morning Star News by phone.
“A soldier approached our Cadets who had mounted a blockade during Sunday morning Mass on the road leading to our parish and ordered them to dismantle the blockade,” Mamman said.
“The Cadets told the soldier that Mass was going on, and they would remove the blockade as soon as it was over, but the soldier was dissatisfied with the explanation.”
The soldier returned 10 minutes later with other soldiers from a check-point on the Jos-Abuja highway, he said.
“They stormed the parish, shooting at worshipers inside the church,” Mamman said. “Five of our members were shot and killed, while many others were injured. One other Christian from another church was also killed when the incident escalated and engulfed the town.”
Sources reported one Cadet died in a hospital and four other non-Cadet church members were killed.
Bulus Jatau, another member of the church, confirmed the shooting death of the five members of St. Peter’s and the ensuing shooting of the other Christian.
“The attack on our church forced other Christians in Gidan-Waya to clash with the soldiers, and in the process, another Christian was shot to death, bringing the number of those killed to six,” he told Morning Star News.
Jatau said the soldier who initially objected to the barricade was shouting at the church watchmen, asking why they had blocked the road.
“After arguing with them, he left and returned about 10 minutes later with some of his colleagues to the church to shoot at the Cadets and other members of our church,” he said.
Jatau said also that the sixth Christian the soldiers killed was a member of another church congregation in the town who was returning to his nearby house when he was gunned down.
“As the soldiers were shooting, another Christian returning from another church was hit by the bullet and he died instantly,” he said. “One of the Cadet boys was shot, and he died after being taken to a hospital here in Gidan-Waya.”
Another resident, however, reportedly said the soldiers did not fire into the church, and that the four non-Cadet church members were killed in the ensuing clash. Another resident reportedly said the soldier who objected to the road-block routinely accelerated his motorcycle outside the worship service, a habit the watchmen had requested he stop, implying that this conflict was at the root of the argument over the barricades.
Efforts to reach the Rt. Rev. Joseph Bagobiri, the Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese, and authorities of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna were unsuccessful. At press time military officials had not commented publicly on the soldiers’ disproportionate response to what exactly had touched off the quarrel.
The names of the six Christians killed were not immediately available. At press time protests and unrest continued, with residents and students of the Kaduna State College of Education fleeing to the bush and surrounding towns and villages to escape the violence.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church has set up the street barricade the past few years to prevent would-be terrorists from bombing their services, sources said. Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna state have also mounted attacks that have killed numerous Christians.
The attack in Gidan-Waya is not the first time soldiers charged with protecting Christians in Nigeria have turned their guns on them. Survivors of a Jan. 6, 2014 slaughter of 33 Christians in a village in Nigeria’s Plateau state said Special Task Force (STF) soldiers stationed to protect them turned their weapons on those fleeing the attack.
Also in Plateau state, Muslim soldiers on Sept. 3, 2013 joined ethnic Fulani herdsmen in night raids on Gura Dabwam village, near Jos in Gyel District, killing three Christians, relatives said.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.