By Ngala Killian Chimton
(OSV News) — The killing of Father Charles Igechi June 7 is further evidence of Christian persecution in Nigeria, church officials in the country say.
The priest was on his way to St. Michael College in Ikhueniro, where he was assigned, when unidentified gunmen swooped in and shot him in the back.
Archbishop Augustine Akubeze of Benin City said in a statement that the body of the priest was found in Ikpoba Hill, not far from Benin City, the capital and largest city of Edo state in southern Nigeria.
“With deep sadness and sorrow in our hearts, we wish to inform you of the death of one of our priests in the Archdiocese, Father Charles Onomhoale Igechi, who was ordained on the 13 of August 2022 and who until his death was the Vice Principal of St. Michael College, Ikhueniro,” the archbishop said June 8 in a condolence message.
Father Igechi was killed only 10 months after he was ordained.
“We therefore wish to solicit for your prayers for the happy repose of his soul,” Archbishop Akubeze added.
Josef Ishu, secretary of the Nigerian bishops’ conference Laity Office, told OSV News the killing of the priest is “the latest evidence of Christian persecution” in Nigeria.
“Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. That’s what the Bible says,” he said.
“The Catholic Church in Nigeria is particularly under this attack by unknown gunmen and I feel it is deliberate,” Ishu said, adding that “this could be a way of frustrating the faith.”
He stressed that Christians in the country suffer from a lack of protection from the government.
“The government will always tell you that it is on top of the situation and (at the same time) you will not hear about any arrest, then there is no prosecution and it will just end like that. It is quite frustrating and frightening,” Ishu said.
According to a report published in January by the geopolitical research organization, SB Morgen Intelligence, at least 39 priests were slaughtered in Nigeria in 2022. The report titled “Attacks on Priests” also said 30 others were abducted and that overall 145 attacks on Catholic priests in the African country were recorded in the year under review.
“Priests in Nigeria have been under severe attack for at least the past three years. Let’s pray that it doesn’t increase,” Johan Viljoen, director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), told OSV News.
According to Father Remigius Ihyula of the Makurdi Diocese, the targeting of priests is meant to “create maximum effect.” He explained that the perpetrators act as “if we can get your priests or pastors, you the followers are mincemeat, we can easily get you too,” Father Ihyula told OSV News.
While police are still investigating the priest’s killing, Archbishop Akubeze has entrusted the faithful in Nigeria “to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Sorrow.”
“May God continue to guide all the faithful in the archdiocese of Benin City and may the soul of Father Charles Igechi find peace and tranquility in the loving embrace of our risen Savior,” Archbishop Akubeze said.
Nigeria is experiencing a deadly wave of Christian persecution. Nine hundred civilians died in Nigeria’s Imo state in just 29 months, most of them were Christians, the human rights group Intersociety said in its newest report.
On April 10, a previous report by Intersociety revealed that over 50,000 Christians had been killed in Nigeria since the 2009 Islamic uprising in Africa’s most populous nation. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has maintained silence in the face of the killings since it took power in 2015, according to Catholic groups.