MORE than a dozen Nigerians have been shot dead after attending a New Year’s Day church service.
A group who had just left a midnight service in the southern town of Omuku were ambushed by an armed gang, who fired at random into the group. There were mixed reports on the exact number killed: some agencies suggested that as many as 17 people were left dead.
The shooting is being connected to gang violence, which has escalated in the region over the past 12 months, police sources say. Omuku is in the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, where armed gangs demand a bigger share of the profits of foreign oil companies.
“The gunmen opened fire on a set of worshippers at about 12.30 [a.m.] on Monday,” Ugochi Olugbo, a relative of one of the victims, told the news agency AFP.
“The Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Zaki, has also launched a manhunt for the bandits to ensure they are arrested and prosecuted.”
Local reports suggested that the sound of the gunshots was lost amid fireworks released to celebrate the New Year, delaying the police response.
The newspaper Nigeria Independent reported that there were two groups of gunmen who launched a co-ordinated attack on worshippers returning from church services, but that has not been officially confirmed.
There is also a long-running conflict in more northern states in Nigeria, where the Islamist militants Boko Haram have frequently targeted Christians and churches. But, in Kaduna, a majority Muslim city in the north-west of Nigeria, a Muslim group decided to visit three large churches in an act of solidarity over Christmas.
The local newspaper Vanguard reported that the leader of the group, Dr Shuaibu Musa, promised the congregation at one church that he would protect them from attack: “We are here to [make] merry with our Christian brothers on the birth of he whose return has been foretold by our Prophet. I will protect their religion and their churches wherever they are found. We therefore hold this covenant that . . . Christians are not our enemy but our brothers and neighbours.”
The pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All, in Kaduna, the Revd Sule Mashan, said: “Together we can champion unity among all religious people and take unified stance against aggressive leaders. The Church should join the struggle against oppressors and tyrants right away.”