Despite the assurances of safety by the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Yobe State, violence erupted again as gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members attacked the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) at Piri village near Potiskum.
They torched the church and killed the pastor, Yohana Sini (50) and five other worshipers in the early hours of Tuesday.
Piri is two kilometres west of Potiskum town, which is the epicentre of Boko Haram.
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The gunmen, according to an eyewitness, Ibrahim Audu, killed Sini and Daniel Edi, by slitting their throats, while four other residents were shot dead before their wives and children at about 1.45 a.m.
Audu said: “We were woken up and terrified with the sporadic gunshots and multiple explosions at this church at about 1.00 a.m., when the gunmen set ablaze 21 houses in the village in their three-hour attacks and killings in Piri village. They also killed our pastor, Mallam Yohana Sini, in the glare of his wife and children by slitting his throat at about 1.36 a.m. of that tragic night.”
The Guardian also learnt that eight hours after the attacks, the emir of Fika, Alhaji Muhammadu Idrissa Ibn Abali Mohammed Idrissa visited the village, and pledged that more soldiers and policemen would be deployed to prevent further attacks and killings.
The four villagers that were killed in the attacks, according to Audu, included Adamau Garba, Ishaku Garba, Solomon Saleh and Haruna Lawal.
Confirming the incident on Tuesday, the Yobe State Police Command spokesman, Salisu Adamu said that at about midnight of Tuesday, suspected gunmen attacked one of the villages near Potiskum and burnt down one church and over a dozen houses.
He said the pastor of the church was also feared killed along with some residents of the village.
He said no arrests were made yet by either the police or JTF.
Violence also broke out on Tuesday in Gubio, Barawa and a village in Dikwa of Borno State, as gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members set ablaze the official residence of the council chairman and lodge, a palace, two primary schools and several houses in Bulabulin ward of Gubio. They killed three residents at Barawa in the early hours of Tuesday, Gubio and Barawa, a border town with Cameroun.
The attacks in Dikwa village, according to an eyewitness, Saina Modu, led to the torching of six houses and the residence of a village head with no single life lost in the attacks at 1.35 a.m.
A Gubio resident and an eyewitness, Alhaji Mali Gubio, told The Guardian on telephone yesterday: “The gunmen struck this town at about midnight with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and petrol-bombs, and burnt down many public buildings, including our district head’s palace, the council lodge and official residence of our chairman before the gunmen went to torch two of our primary schools. We were terrified and shocked with the sporadic gunshots and explosion that rocked this town for about two hours.”
The children in Bulabulin ward, he added, could not sleep, as several houses were also set ablaze by the suspected gunmen, and fled towards the Gubio-Damasak road.
He however noted that the attacks on public buildings, including the palace of the district head and official residence of the council chairman, were “politically motivated,” querying why did the gunmen only target public buildings in their multiple attacks, without killing even a single resident of Gubio.”
At Barawa, a border town with Cameroun, suspected gunmen in separate attacks also killed three residents in their respective houses at about 1.45 a.m. on Tuesday.
An eyewitness and neighbour to one of the victims said: “Five
gunmen came on three unmarked motorcycles and attacked three houses after midnight. They chanted, ‘God is great!’ before tying the hands of the victims behind their backs and slitting the throats of my neighbours.
“What have they done to the gunmen to warrant these killings?” asked the neighbour in the telephone interview.
Confirming the separate incidents yesterday, the spokesman of Borno State Police Command, Gideon Jibrin, said that there were attacks in northern and southern senatorial districts of Borno State, where many public buildings were destroyed by the suspected armed hoodlums at Gubio, Barawa and a village in Dikwa council area of Borno State.
He said in the Barawa border town, three people were feared killed, after the gunmen attacked three houses at about 1.35 a.m., adding that the number of the casualties in the Dikwa village was yet to be sent in by the area police commander.
But despite the cost in human lives and property incurred by the Christian community in the North as a result of the insurgency, the Bishop of Kaduna Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Man’oso Ndagoso said that all Catholic faithful had in the spirit of the Christmas forgiven Boko Haram for bombing its churches and killing its members in the state.
Besides, the Kaduna State Governor, Muhktar Ramalan Yero, has urged all Christians and the entire people of Kaduna State to be committed to religious harmony, peaceful co-existence and understanding of one another.
In a message to the Catholic community in the state, Ndagoso pointed out that forgiving Boko Haram was in line with the forgiveness Jesus Christ exhibited when he was betrayed and crucified by his enemies, urging all Christians to show love even to their enemies.
He said the act of forgiveness was also necessary since Jesus was born on Christmas day as a peacemaker and joy to the whole world, stressing that it would amount to dishonouring Jesus to celebrate His birthday with rancour, malice and revenge.
He reminded Christians that violence, political and social upheaval were witnessed during the time of Christ on earth, saying that whatever evil that was being perpetrated in modern days by Boko Haram should not be a thing of surprise to anybody, and that Christians should restrain the urge to retaliate as Jesus did to His attackers.
Ndagoso expressed gratitude to the state government, corporate organisations and individuals who stood by the archdiocese during the bombing and killing periods.
The cleric also used the opportunity to restate his sympathies for flood victims in the state during the rainy season when some parts of the state were submerged by flood, leading to destruction of human lives, houses, farmlands, crops and roads.
He expressed the fear that there might be food scarcity next year as a result of the negative impact of the flood on farmlands and crops, and appealed to farmers, particularly in the remote rural areas that were not affected by flood not to seize the opportunity to increase prices of their farm produce.
Also, Mr. Usman Gwary, the Commissioner of Police in Zamfara, has assured the people that the police command is on top of the crime situation in the state, regardless of the recent killings in some areas.
He gave the assurance in Gusau at a news conference held on Tuesday over the spate of killings by gunmen in some parts of the state.
Gwary stressed that the command had been working to ensure that normalcy returned to the affected areas, where gunmen killed 10 vigilantes.
“We have been strategising and putting our intelligence gathering together but you know we cannot make some of our plans public so as not to jeopardise our operations,” he said.
“Just two days ago, I deployed three pick-up vans with heavily-armed mobile and regular policemen in the troubled area on Zurmi-Katsina Road; they will continue to mount surveillance there until we are certain that there is no more problem,” he, however, added.
“We are hopeful that the gunmen, who attacked and killed 10 members of the vigilance group, will soon be arrested and this is based on our intelligence gathering.”
The police chief appealed to the people to assist the police with useful information about suspected movements of criminals even before they perpetrated their crime “so that the police can quickly move in and tackle the situation.”
Gwary, however, lamented that some criminal hideouts in the state were difficult to penetrate by the police because of the dearth of access roads and communications network in such areas.
“It will be suicidal to insist that the police should go and make arrests in such hideouts when they do not know the areas and the way the criminals do,” he added.
Besides, security chiefs in Plateau State have called on communities in Riyom Local Council Area to work together for peace to return to the area. They made the call on Christmas day when they visited Bagad village in the council where a woman died in an attack on Sunday. Another woman was injured in an attack during which unknown persons set 10 thatch houses on fire.
Maj.-Gen. Henry Ayoola, the Commander of the Special Task Force in Plateau who led other security chiefs on the visit, said peace would return to the area if the Berom and Fulani forgave each other and worked for peace.
Ayoola said they were in Bagad to condole with the people and share in their grief, adding that the perpetrators of the crimes would be brought to book.
“We are here to let you know that we are concerned about what happened and to share in your feelings. We will do everything possible to arrest the perpetrators,” he said.
Ayoola said the security agencies would protect all law-abiding citizens irrespective of tribe and faith.
“We are only enemies of those who make themselves enemies of peace and we will hunt them until they change their ways,” he said.
Mr. Chris Olakpe, the Commissioner of Police in Plateau, threatened to arrest community leaders where attacks occurred persistently.
“I would hold the chiefs responsible. They are the leaders of people and should have proper knowledge of happenings of their communities,” he said.
He noted that no religion preached violence or encouraged killing and warned that law enforcement agents would deal with anyone who killed in the name of religion.
Olakpe advised the youths not to allow themselves to be used by wicked leaders to perpetrate evil.
Mr. Bature Sodangi, the Commandant of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, advised community leaders to constantly talk to their people on the need for peace.
Sodangi wondered why people who had been living together for centuries would suddenly become enemies and urged them to resolve their differences.
Mr. Christian Ojobo, the state Director of State Security Service, said peace would continue to elude the people of the area unless they decided to change the situation.
“Our visit alone would not bring peace unless you agree to be in peace by tolerating one another’s shortcomings.”
He advocated inter-cultural marriages between the Berom and Fulani as one of the ways of building trust and love between the communities.
Chief Gyang Dalyop, the District Head of Bachit, and Malam Mohammadu Adamu, the Fulani community leader, as well as Mr. Dalyyop Dantong, the father of the late Senator Gyang Dantong, among others received the security chiefs.
Also, the Catholic Bishop of Kano Diocese, Bishop John Niyiring Namanza has called on Christians in the northern parts of the country not to lose hope because of the prevailing insecurity in the region.
The bishop who spoke to The Guardian in a phone interview said the birth of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, was their hope because they relied on him for everything.
According to him, Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’ is real because God has been with the people.
He urged them to pray for all political leaders to really understand the enormity of the security challenge so that together every one would be part of the solution.
Namanza said he was grateful to God for his mercies in spite of the crises and challenges.
Meanwhile, the Jigawa State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has commended Governor Sule Lamido for his leadership that has kept the state in peace and stability.
The state Chairman of the CAN, Rev. Damina Sule Ibrahim Taura in his Christmas and New Year message, expressed the Christian believers’ joy for celebrating the birth of Jesus peacefully despite the prevailing insecurity in neighbouring states.
Taura called on his members to continue to live in peace with their Muslims brothers and to be tolerant for peace to continue in the state and in the country at large.
He commended for the mutual understanding that exists between Christians and Muslims in the state, expressing the hope it would be maintained.
The chairman charged members especially wealthy individuals to assist the less privileged in the association at all times.
Besides, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State has called on both Christians and Muslims not to relent in their “prayers and devotion” to the Almighty God for divine intervention and deliverance from the security challenges being faced in the state.
Gaidam made the call in Damaturu on Tuesday in a statement by his Special Adviser on Public Affairs and Information, Abdullahi Bego to mark Christmas celebration and the birth of Jesus Christ.
He said: “As members of the Christian community in the state, around the country and all over the world celebrate Christmas today (Tuesday), I extend my congratulations and best wishes to all of you. With deep spiritual significance of the Christmas season, I pray the Almighty God for successful and peaceful celebrations in this state.”
Gaidam, however, noted that this year’s Christmas, like last year’s, came at a time that Nigeria was going through challenging times, especially in the area of security of lives and property.
He therefore, urged all Christians not to relent in prayers and devotion to the Almighty God for divine intervention and deliverance.
The governor also called on the people of the state, Christians and Muslims, to continue to live and work together in peace and unity in order to attain sustainable social development.
He believes that with the unity of purpose that all the people of the state have shown in the wake of recent security challenges, the state and indeed the entire country would surmount the challenges and emerge stronger.
Meanwhile, a former Inspector-General of Police, Sir Mike Mbama Okiro, has called for fresh ideas and strategies among security forces and the citizenry to combat terrorism and other crimes in the country.
He said the call became necessary as terrorists and other criminals were moving very fast as they embrace and use modern methods and sophisticated tools to achieve their evil agenda.
In an interview, he said: “ Three approaches are urgently needed to fight modern crime and criminals. The first is the all-inclusive approach under which the citizens or the generality of the people in a country are part of the security network in terms of patriotically assisting law enforcement agencies to fight crime. This means that the people should actively be involved in intelligence gathering and giving credible information to security agencies so that terrorists and other criminals can be brought to justice.
“Policing and crime-fighting in general is for all citizens whose lives and property are endangered by criminals. It is not the job of the police alone. The police are only doing a part of the job for which they are paid like other citizens. Criminals live in the society among the people whose duty it is to expose them.
“ The second strategy is to modernize training and equipment for security forces. This means computerization of all processes and operations as well as regular modern training of personnel no matter the cost. This is what has made nations like Israel and the United States to be effective and efficient in crime fighting. Criminals are upgrading their information technology skills. There is no reason why crime fighters’ skills should not be upgraded.
“Lastly, there is now, more than ever before, the need for synergy among all security agencies to avoid working at cross-purposes and to attain quick results.”
Okiro praised the current IGP, Mohammed Abubakar, and other police personnel for their efforts in checking terrorism and other crimes “despite limited resources and other difficulties.”
He urged security and government to devise strategies to carry the people along to win their confidence and enlighten them on the need for partnership in crime fighting.