ROME – After being kidnapped at gunpoint and spending three harrowing days in captivity over the weekend, Nigerian Father Innocent Mba, the latest cleric to be abducted in Africa in recent months, was released Tuesday.
Speaking to Crux over the phone in Nigeria, a representative of the Nsukka Diocese where Mba serves as pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Eha-Amufu in the country’s Enugu State, confirmed that the priest has been set free and is in “good health,” apart from the “psychological trauma” of his captivity.
At the moment, Mba is resting and is “comforted” to be back at home, the representative said.
According to PUNCH, a Nigerian newspaper, Mba was abducted at gunpoint last Friday while out on a pastoral assignment. He was released early Tuesday morning, though the details of why he was kidnapped and what happened during his brief captivity are still sparse.
In comments to PUNCH, Nigerian Father Matthew Eze, communications director for the Diocese of Nsukka, thanked God “for his mercies,” but said that he was unaware whether a ransom had been paid in order to secure Mba’s release.
To his parishioners, Mba is known as an environmentally conscious pastor who cleaned up his parish grounds after listening to a program on a local radio station called, “Climate Time,” which raises awareness about climate change and its social impacts.
Suffering from environmental ailments such as droughts and deforestation, Nigeria was ranked 11th in the world for plastic pollution according to the Ocean Atlas report in 2017.
To help curb the impact of climate change in his area and stop pollution on parish property, Mba transformed roughly 24 acres of land behind his parish hall into a rice farm, the value of which could reach up to $10,000.
In March, he sent 40 bags of rice weighing 55 pounds each to the minor seminary of St. Peter’s in the Okigwe Diocese.
Mba’s kidnapping was the latest in a string of abductions and killings that have plagued the Catholic Church in Nigeria for years. At least 19 priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria’s Enugu State alone since 2019, two of whom were killed. Many more priests and seminarians have been kidnapped or murdered throughout the rest of Africa, with the blame falling largely on Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
Christians make up about half the population of Nigeria, but have faced harsh persecution in recent years on multiple fronts, primarily from Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsman, who have attacked Christian villages in search for grazing territory for their cattle.
Most of these attacks happen along Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” – where the predominantly Muslim North meets the predominantly Christian South.
Local tribal conflicts have compounded the issue, making it dangerous not just for Christians, but for everyone. Many believe that it is advocacy from the pulpit that has made some clergy targets of kidnapping and murder.
After the killing of one priest in August 2019, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement saying that the “murder of the Catholic priest highlights the urgency of addressing this embarrassing and persistent conflict.”
“I have watched with trepidation and disbelief how hate and bigotry had inhabited the human soul, resulting in brothers killing brothers,” he said, adding, “Progress is impossible where violence and destruction are allowed to dominate our daily lives.”
However, despite Buhari’s statement, some Christian leaders have argued that the Nigerian government’s failure to stop the violence is in part due to corruption, and in part because the violence is linked to a “hidden agenda” born out of Boko Haram’s attacks in the early 2000s to make the country an Islamic nation.
In September 2019, a U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings called for urgent action to end what she called the “pressure cooker” of violence in Nigeria along with a “generalized system of impunity” for those killings.
Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop emeritus of Abuja, gave an interview in September 2019 in which he said that insecurity in Nigeria “is getting out of hand.”
This spring, Father Zacharia Nyantiso Samjum, secretary general of the Catholic Secretariat in Nigeria issued a statement asking Catholics throughout the world to pray for peace in Nigeria and safety for the country’s Christians.
“In the face of the current security situation, the Church needs to speak out in word and action against the level of insecurity in the country,” must be taken, he said.
If Mba’s abduction offers any sort of lesson, it’s that even with the distraction of a global pandemic, deep-seeded political, social, and ethnic issues causing problems prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus have not gone away, and still require urgent solutions when the pandemic ends.
This article incorporated material from the Catholic News Service.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen