SOKOTO, Nigeria — A murdered Nigerian seminarian had the courage of a martyr, his bishop said after three men were arrested for murder and kidnapping.
One of the suspects said Michael Nnadi was killed because he kept asking his kidnappers “to repent and turn their lives around from their evil ways,” said Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto.
“What most annoyed them was that, although Michael knew that they were Muslims, he continued to insist that they repent and abandon their way of life,” the bishop said.
Nnadi, 18, was killed in January after armed men kidnapped him and three other students from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kakau, in Nigeria’s Kaduna state. One of the seminarians was freed with serious injuries 10 days after the Jan. 8 attack, and the others were released Feb. 1.
Bolanle Ataga, the wife of a prominent doctor, also was killed after she was kidnapped with two of her children from the family’s home in Kaduna in late January.
Mustapha Mohammed, 30, and two other men, all from Kaduna state, were arrested for the crimes in late April. Police said they were part of a 19-man gang, according to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.
Mohammed said Ataga was killed by the “leader of the gang because she refused to be raped by him,” Bishop Kukah said.
The gang “has recklessly robbed, kidnapped, tortured and killed many people along the 110-mile stretch of road between Kaduna and Abuja,” Nigeria’s capital, over the past few years, he said.
“The story of Michael and Bolanle is a metaphor for understanding the deep scars that have been left behind by British colonialism, scars that have disfigured the face of religion in Nigeria and continue to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims,” Kukah said in a statement released by Aid to the Church in Need.
Noting that “missionaries preceded the colonial state in Nigeria by many years,” the bishop said their work “very often set them against the colonial state.”
In northern Nigeria, missionary work “was seen by the colonialists as an intrusion into the sacred space of Islam, while the educated Christians were seen as irritants, challenging the racism and injustice embedded in colonialism and slowing down their exploitation and trade,” he said.
Nigeria, which gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960, is split along religious lines into the predominantly Muslim North and mainly Christian South.
“In post-colonial Nigeria, the northern Muslim elite, using religion as a basis for social integration and power sharing, have continued to see Christians as outsiders,” Kukah said.
In northern Nigeria, “Muslims continue to marry young Christian girls and accept them” as converts to Islam, yet “Muslim girls are warned that marrying a Christian, or any Muslim converting to Christianity, amounts to embracing a death sentence,” he said.
Other forms of discrimination include “constant harassment and targeting of Christian places of worship for destruction” and the exclusion of Christians from employment in the civil service, he said.
“The British left a legacy of a feudal architecture of power that has been exploited by Nigeria’s corrupt and incompetent ruling elite across the country,” Kukah said.
“Years of negative stereotypes against Christianity and its adherents have fed the anger of people like Mohammed, who have come to believe that to be asked to repent is a call to war,” he said.
“Both Michael and Bolanle, as well as Leah Sharibu … are metaphors for the suffering church in Africa,” Kukah said. Leah, 15, was taken hostage with more than 100 girls in the Nigerian town of Dapchi early in 2018. When the others were freed a month later, she was the only one not released — reportedly because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Noting that “their testimony and witness represent the spiritual oxygen that our lungs so badly need today,” the bishop said he hoped “they will inspire a new generation of defenders of the Gospel in a sick and troubled continent.”