A group of unidentified “bandits” reportedly shouting “Allahu akbar!” shot and burned alive Father Isaac Achi on Sunday in Niger state, Nigeria — ending the life of a dedicated clergyman who had already survived a Boko Haram Christmas bombing, an abduction, and another shooting.
The harrowing attack — in which the assailants shot another priest, Father Collins Omeh, who remains in the hospital at press time — is the latest in a string of increasingly common terrorist assaults on Christian communities in the north of the country by attackers colloquially referred to as “bandits.” While Boko Haram, an Islamic State affiliate, is most active in northeast Nigeria, in the northwest and “Middle Belt” region of the country, ethnic Fulani jihadists, sometimes referred to as Fulani “herdsmen,” are the greatest threat to Christians. Boko Haram terrorists tend to be of the northern Nigerian Hausa ethnicity; “Boko Haram” is a Hausa language term roughly translating to “Western education is forbidden.”
Some online reports have identified the killers of Father Achi as Fulani jihadists, but the police have neither arrested the attackers nor confirmed their identities in public at press time. Similarly, some reports have identified Father Achi as an ethnic Igbo, though major Nigerian news outlets have not confirmed these reports.
The killing occurred at the St. Peters and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin-Koro, Niger state, on Sunday evening. According to local police spokesperson DSP Wasiu Abiodun, a mob of “armed bandits” attacked the church and demanded to see Father Achi. In light of the growing wave of Christian persecution in the country, the church had reinforced its security, preventing the bandits from finding the priest. In response, they burned it down.
PHOTOS: Bandits Burn Catholic Priest Alive In Niger
Bandits have burnt a Catholic priest, Reverend Father, Isaac Achi of Saint Peter and Paul Catholic Church, to death in the Kafin Koro Community in Paikoro Local Government Area of Niger State. pic.twitter.com/DIXoG16hcj
— Punch Newspapers (@MobilePunch) January 15, 2023
“Unfortunately, the bandits reportedly attempted to gain entrance into the residence, but seems difficult and set the house ablaze, while the said Rev. Father was burnt dead,” Abiodun reportedly said. “A colleague of the Rev. Father identified as Father Collins was equally shot in the shoulder while trying to escape from the scene. Police tactical teams attached to Kafin-Koro Div were immediately drafted to the scene, but the hoodlums had escaped before the arrival of the teams.”
The Pillar, a Catholic publication, spoke to Omeh from the hospital on Sunday, who appeared to contradict the police’s account that authorities had arrived “immediately.”
“Omeh told fellow priests from the Diocese of Minna that it took police hours to arrive after they were called — a charge that would seem consistent with claims from Christian leaders in central Nigeria, that police are slow to respond to their reports of violence,” the Pillar noted.
Similarly, a local speaking to the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust identified as John Amos said police did not move quickly enough in response to the attack.
“People who went there this morning said Father Achi made many calls for rescue but nobody showed up. He was in the building with one other Revrend father, the one who was shot in the arm,” the Daily Trust quoted Amos as saying. “The other Reverend father was the one who saw them because they broke into his own apartment. The place is like a motel where you can receive some other guests. I have slept there before; the place has different rooms.”
“The police even in Kaffin-koro couldn’t do anything. How many of them were on duty when it happened? They were like two or three,” Amos asked. “They had to send message to Minna and Minna to Kaffin-Koro is like over 73 kilometers. That’s the reason Minna command couldn’t get there.”
Omeh told the Pillar that, in addition to being burned in the church fire, Achi suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
“The bandits, who were about 15 in number, came fully armed and shooting sporadically in the air shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great],” Omeh was quoted as saying. He said the terrorists approached him first, demanding to know where Achi was.
“The priest said that in the middle of the night, he was confronted at gunpoint in his living quarters inside the rectory compound, and directed to climb through a hole created in the ceiling, and then to take the terrorists to Fr. Achi,” the Pillar detailed. “But the men initially had difficulty gaining access to Achi’s quarters, and began shooting their weapons in all directions. Achi was shot in the leg, Omeh said, and the parochial vicar was shot in the hand.”
Omeh noted that the men offered each other confession and that he managed to escape thanks to Achi, who was shot in the chest before being burned.
Achi had endured decades of persecution for his faith prior to his killing. The Daily Trust listed at least three other presumed jihadist attacks against his person prior to this weekend: an abduction, a shooting, and a bombing.
“The late Reverend father was said to have survived multiple attacks. According to a family source, Father Achi was abducted in Madalla and spent days in captivity until his church members raised some ransom before he regained freedom,” the newspaper recalled. “Still in Madalla, the priest was shot on his jaw when he went to bless a child during a naming ceremony.”
Achi also reportedly survived a Boko Haram suicide bombing on Christmas Day, 2011, that killed 44 people.
Multiple Nigerian news outlets recalled that Achi’s requiem mass for the victims of the Christmas bombing urged all Christians to forgive the violence.