The Rev. Emmanuel Saba Bileya and his wife, Juliana, were gunned down on their farm in eastern Nigeria by unidentified insurgents last week, local media report.
“It was an attack on the pastor and his wife on their farm. While they were working on the farm, suddenly armed men came and opened fire on them, leading to the death of the pastor and his wife,” said David Misal, spokesman for the police of Taraba state.
The 51-year-old Bileya was an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria and an alumnus of Calvin Theological Seminary in Michigan. He and his wife, who was pregnant, leave behind eight children from the ages of 1 to 19.
“In what is being noted as systematic direct war against Christianity in Nigeria, pastors, Christian leaders and seminarians are either being kidnapped or killed every week,” reads a statement from the Hausa Christians Foundation. “Christians in Nigeria have been the target of many attacks by the vicious Boko Haram jihadist Islamist terrorists, herdsmen attacks and many other kidnappings in recent times.”
“Brethren, the body of Christ is suffering so much harm in the hands of these evil jihadists. The government of Nigeria seems to care less about the plights of Christians [in] Nigeria,” the statement says.
Taraba state forms part of Nigeria’s Middle Belt, home to many of the country’s Fulani militants and a hotbed of anti-Christian violence.
According to analysts, Islamic militants are waging a “slow-motion war” against Nigeria’s Christians, which is “massive in scale and horrific in brutality.”
Numbering between 14 and 15 million, the Fulani raiders originated in the country’s mostly Muslim north but have made their way south where they have been carrying out a violent crusade on Christians.
According to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index, the Fulani militants are now deadlier than Boko Haram and carried out the majority of the Nigeria’s 2,040 documented terrorist fatalities in 2018.
Prior to last week’s killing, many had reportedly fled the town for safety. Rev. Biyela sent his own children away while he and his wife stayed back “praying and hoping for God’s restoration of peace and protection of the town and church.”
The governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, released a statement condemning the murder of the pastor and his wife and sympathizing with the surviving members of Bileya’s family and church community.
“The killing of the pastor and his wife is wicked and inhuman,” the governor’s statement reads. “Killings of this nature have happened too often recently in Southern Taraba communities and this is unhelpful to the ongoing efforts of the government to achieve lasting peace among communities in the area.”
The couple were laid to rest Friday at the Christian Reformed Church Nigeria (CRCN) cemetery in Donga, Taraba State.