News Analysis

Nigeria’s clergy are powerless against roaming militias

Fr Tanko: 'a good man who served God'

There was a sombre atmosphere as hundreds of Catholics gathered in Jalingo diocese, northeast Nigeria, to pay their last respects to Fr David Tanko, a priest who was killed by unknown gunmen.  

Fr Tanko, 42, was travelling to join his fellow priests at a peace meeting for Tiv and Jukun – two communities that have been engulfed in years of conflicts in the region – when he was murdered. His body and car were set on fire after the killing, which attracted wide condemnation. A local community leader said the attack was carried out by militias from one of the ethnic groups operating in the region. 

At a Mass in Fr Tanko’s honour, the bishop of the diocese where he last served as priest, the Most Rev Charles Hammawa, condemned the killing and said Fr Tanko “was a good man who served God and his community with dedication and love”. 

“We are only strengthened and comforted by our Christian faith of surrendering all things to God, and our faith in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting,” Bishop Hammawa said. 

The peace meeting Fr Tanko wanted to attend was initiated by Bishop Hammawa as part of efforts to help bring an end to fighting within local communities. “His death would not deter the Church from doing the needful to ensure peace in the state,” the bishop told the congregation. 

For some years now, violent ethnic conflicts in northern Nigeria have continued without an end in sight. Many peace meetings and deals have been signed between the communities which soon fall part.  

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other religious bodies have come out to condemn the attacks on priests in various dioceses across the country. 

The CBCN has called on the government to do more to protect citizens who are often victims of attacks and abductions by gunmen. In July, the CBCN asked President Muhammadu Buhari to resign if he cannot protect Nigeria’s citizens. 

Since Buhari’s re-election in February, nothing has changed regarding the level of insecurity in the country and very little is being done to protect citizens facing frequent attacks by armed gunmen. There have been increased number of killings and abductions by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group. In June 2018, more than 80 people were killed by the herders, who attacked villages mostly dominated by Christians. In South East Nigeria, two priests were killed in March and August respectively by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen.  

No arrests have been made since the killing of Fr Tanko despite promises by the police to investigate and arrest the perpetrators of the crime.