Catholics in Nigeria received some good news on Thursday, when a priest kidnapped over a week ago was released by his captors.

Father Oliver Buba of Yola Diocese is the latest priest to be kidnapped in Nigeria. He was taken on May 21. In a statement released the same day by Bishop Stephen Mamza of Yola, the priest was abducted from his residence at the St Rita Catholic Church in the Numan Local Government Area.

Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza announced this latest news with “our hearts full of joy and thanksgiving.”

“May the good Lord bestow His blessings and peace upon you all. May the grace and peace of Christ be with you always,” he said in a short statement.

Nigeria has around 230 million people, almost evenly divided by Christians and Muslims.

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Figures from a consortium of civil society organizations known as the Civil Society Joint Action Group reveal that 17,469 Nigerians – most of them Christians – have been abducted since 2019.

Nigeria ranks sixth globally on the 2024 World Watch List, which identifies countries where Christians experience severe persecution. The list is compiled by Open Doors, an NGO dedicated to supporting Christians worldwide.

Open Doors UK says Christians in Nigeria continue to be terrorized with devastating impunity by Islamic militants and armed “bandits” – particularly in the north and central regions of the country.

The organization says more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year than everywhere else in the world combined, and notes men and boys are often specifically targeted, with women and girls often abduction and sexually assaulted.

Michael Kelly, the Director of Public Affairs of Aid to the Church in Need in Ireland, said the Catholic charity joins with the bishop, priests and people of the Diocese of Yola in giving thanks for the safe release of Buba.

“Nigeria is currently plagued by a lack of security. This is something that the Catholic bishops there have been calling for to be urgently addressed by the Government,” he told Crux.

He said kidnapping for ransom has become an industry. In 2023 Nigeria led the list of countries with cases of abducted priests and religious, with 28 cases, including three religious sisters.

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“While thanking God for the safe return of Fr Buba, we think of the three priests who were kidnapped in previous years and are still missing. Father John Bako Shekwolo has been missing since 2019 and Father Joseph Igweagu and Father Christopher Ogide were taken in 2022 and have not been heard of since,” Kelly added.

“In terms of religious freedom, Nigeria really matters. With over 200 million inhabitants, it is the Africa’s biggest country in demographic as well as economic terms and plays a key role in the geopolitics of sub-Saharan Africa,” he explained, saying Aid to the Church in Need “adds its voice to that of the many Catholic leaders in Nigeria who have demanded that the Government put an end to the plague of insecurity in the African nation.”

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