YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Four Catholic priests kidnapped by gunmen on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in Nigeria’s southern Delta State, have been freed.
“They were rescued on Friday, Nov. 9 and we are on the trail of the other suspects. We do not encourage ransom, so no ransom was paid,” said Police Commissioner Muhammad Mustafa.
He said one suspect has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping.
The captors had demanded the equivalent of $11,000 for the release.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported that Father Victor Adigboluja of Ijebu Ode diocese, Father Anthony Otegbola of Abeokuta diocese, Father Joseph Ediae of Benin archdiocese, and Emmanuel Obadjere of Warri diocese were abducted on their way to a meeting in Edo State to mark the 10th anniversary of their priestly ordination.
After regaining their freedom, the priests were taken to Benin City for medical attention.
Nigerian authorities condemned the kidnapping, with Benue State Gov. Samuel Ortom describing them as “barbaric, dehumanizing, and shameful.”
The governor speculates that the kidnappers could be Fulani herdsman, who have attacked many areas in the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria but are also active further south.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with nearly 186 million people – nearly equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Nigeria’s Middle Belt is where the Muslim north meets the Christian south. The Fulani herdsmen are Muslim, and their victims are mostly Christian – the violence has religious and ethnic undertones.
Earlier this year, two priests and 17 worshipers were killed by the Fulani herdsmen in Mbalom, Benue state, in the Middle Belt.
According to Emeka Umeagbalasi, board chair of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, October was one of the deadliest months of the year for attacks by Fulani herdsmen, resulting in the deaths of 260 Christians.
“The senseless killings mostly took place in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria particularly in the States of Kaduna (Southern part), Plateau, Adamawa, Benue and Borno (Northeast) and were perpetrated by state actor and non-state actor Jihadists. The killings, perpetrated in the name of ‘Islam,’ are done with reckless abandon despite heavy presence and deployment of soldiers in all the 36 States of Nigeria,” the monitoring group said in its October report.
“The continuation and escalation of the killings mostly targeted at members of the Nigerian Christian faith are also politically motivated whereby those perpetrating them and their backers in the corridors of power who brazenly aid and abet them are hailed among largely illiterate Muslim population in the North as the ‘true defenders of Allah and Islamic Faith’ capable of robotically galloping their electoral popularity among the illiterate Muslim population in the north ahead of the country’s presidential poll in February 2019,” the report continued.
The Global Terrorism Index says that Fulani herdsmen have killed as many as 60,000 people – mostly Christians – since 2001.
“What we have is genocide,” says international human rights attorney Emmanuel Ogebe.
In an appeal to the international community, Bishop William Avenya of Gboko Diocese, told Aid to the Church in Need: “Don’t wait for the genocide to happen before intervening. Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda. It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been severely criticized for failing to stop the killings and failing to punish the perpetrators, with the Catholic bishops in the country issuing a press statement last April 26 titled, “When will this barbarism end?”
The statement jointly signed by the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze of Benin City, and the secretary general of the conference, Bishop Camillus Raymond Umoh of Ikot Ekpene, called on the president to resign if he wasn’t able to keep the country safe.
“If the president cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens,” the bishops said. They called on the president to “save this country from further pain and avoidable chaos, anarchy, and doom.”