Dozens still captive in Nigeria after deadly raid on Catholic town

Nigeria Aduna Residents of Adunu line up to cast their ballots in Adunu Feb. 25, 2023. | Courtesy of Father Dauda Musa Bahago.

Armed bandits killed one person and kidnapped more than 100 others in a March 14 raid on a predominantly Catholic town in north-central Nigeria, according to a Catholic priest and other local sources.

Father Dauda Musa Bahago, a coordinator for the Justice, Development, and Peace Commission, a Catholic aid organization, told CNA the attack took place in his hometown of Adunu, in Niger state, during a memorial Mass in a nearby town for Father Isaac Achia, a Catholic priest who was burned to death Jan. 15. The bandits began attacking Adunu at 9 a.m., then moved to attack the town hosting the memorial service but turned back when they encountered Nigerian army soldiers guarding the town, Bahago said. 

Three weeks after the attack, 62 people are still being held for ransom by Muslim Fulani bandits, Bahago said. One man, Moses Tanko Arada, was killed March 29 when no ransom was paid, and the kidnappers released three women as part of the negotiation process, he said.

The others managed to escape, he said.

“They were demanding a ransom of an amount in Naira equivalent to more than $450,000 but were bargaining for a lesser amount in the last few days,” Bahago said.

Adunu — a town of 5,000 people approximately 20 miles east of Minna, the Niger state capital — is more than half Catholic with Protestant and Muslim residents making up the rest of the population, Bahago said. 

Additional attacks took place in the same area on April 1 and April 4, the priest told CNA. More information was not immediately available on April 5.

On March 14, about 300 people gathered in the town of Kaffinkoro for a Mass for Father Achia, Bahago said.

While the Mass was underway, more than 300 bandits encircled Adunu, six miles away, and the neighboring village of Kwagana, he said. The bandits abducted residents, destroyed homes, and looted shops, he said. The priest said a medical worker was shot near Kwagana.

Father Reuben Shaba, left, and Father Dauda Musa Bahago stand in front of the facade of Holy Family Catholic Church under construction in Adunu in Niger State, Nigeria. Courtesy of Father Dauda Musa Bahago
Father Reuben Shaba, left, and Father Dauda Musa Bahago stand in front of the facade of Holy Family Catholic Church under construction in Adunu in Niger State, Nigeria. Courtesy of Father Dauda Musa Bahago

The attack there was both a kidnapping for ransom and retaliation against residents for voting against a Fulani tribe candidate in the Feb. 25 presidential election, according to sources in Adunu who spoke to CNA and requested anonymity.

A local farmer who requested anonymity told CNA the bandits shouted “The people of Adunu must suffer for voting against Atiku”— referring to Fulani Muslim candidate Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Abubakar and Roman Catholic candidate Peter Obi ran unsuccessfully in an election won by Muslim candidate Bola Tinubu of the incumbent All Progressives Congress Party.

The bandits fled the town of Adunu on March 14 but were ambushed by Nigerian military who intercepted them on their motorbikes, Emmanuel Umar, Niger’s commissioner of Internal Security and Humanitarian Affairs, told CNA. 

One Nigerian soldier was killed in the clash, Umar said. “I called the military in response and gave them the coordinates for the ambush. We are moving carefully into their forest enclave,” Umar said.

The reason for caution is that the vast forests that cover the eastern half of Niger and Zamfara states in Nigeria shelter thousands of radicalized Muslim bandits who have been labeled as Boko Haram terrorists by Niger state officials. Authorities say the bandit gangs frequently outnumber the Nigerian military pursuing them.

The bandits attack both Muslims and Christians, according to Bahago, although Christian communities tend to be more targeted. “We have seen 87 bandit attacks near Minna during the last eight years,” Bahago said.

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