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Violence forces closure of LDS Nigeria temple

Published: Thursday, Aug. 27 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Violence and crime in Aba, Nigeria, this summer caused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to closed its Aba Nigeria Temple indefinitely and evacuate temple workers in mid-June.

"The safety of our temple visitors and workers is always our first concern," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said. "Incidents of violence in recent months in the area where the temple is situated are not necessarily related to the temple but could put church members at risk. As a precautionary measure, temple workers have been moved to other areas, and the temple has been closed while the situation is being addressed."

The closing and evacuation followed in the wake of mid-June gunfire in the area around the temple. Also, the city of Aba and its Nigerian state of Abia have seen a marked increase in reported kidnappings this year.

In an e-mail to the Standard-Examiner reported in the Ogden newspaper's Wednesday edition, a Nigeria temple worker reported the mid-June incident in which four gunmen were seen carrying AK-47s, with shooting reported in the area around the temple, located on the outskirts of Aba, a city of about 900,000 on the Aba River in southern Nigeria.

Bullets from the shooting struck the guardhouse on the temple grounds. The complex also includes an LDS stake center and administrative office. The temple has been closed since mid-June, with foreign temple workers reassigned to other areas.

The Aba Nigeria Temple — the only one in the country and one of only two in the church's Africa West Area — was dedicated Aug. 7, 2005, by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Two years ago, the LDS Church was the target of an earlier round of violence in northern Nigeria when four missionaries were kidnapped near Port Harcourt. The kidnappers released the four Nigerian missionaries after local church leaders arranged to pay $810 total to compensate the kidnappers for the cost of housing and feeding the missionaries during their capture.

Scores of foreign oil company employees were kidnapped for ransom in early 2007. The spate of kidnappings has since moved from north Nigeria to south Nigeria.

While interest by Nigerians in the LDS Church dates back to the 1950s, the church first began proselytizing in Nigeria in 1978. Membership approached 10,000 in 1987. Ten years after that, as the church was approaching 100,000 members on the continent, Nigeria's LDS membership was 30,300.

The church's latest statistics for Nigeria include 88,374 members, five missions, the one temple and some 260 congregations throughout the country.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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