YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – In an escalation of violence against Christianity, two Catholic priests have been abducted in Nigeria within a week, underscoring the ongoing persecution faced by Christians in Africa’s most populous nation.

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.

“With sadness in our hearts, we write to inform the general public of the kidnap of one of our priests, Very Rev Father Oliver Buba,” the bishop’s statement stated.

“We invite all Christ’s faithful and all men and women of goodwill to earnestly pray for quick and safe release of our priest,” the bishop said, before committing the safety of the priest to the loving care of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The spokesperson for the Adamawa State Police Command, Suleiman Nguroje, confirmed the incident on Wednesday, telling local media that “our anti-kidnapping unit operatives are currently combing everywhere to rescue the cleric and to apprehend the miscreants.”

Tuesday’s kidnapping came barely seven days after another priest, Father Basil Gbuzuo of Onitsha Diocese, was kidnapped on May 15.

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Father Prudentius Aroh, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, wrote that Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke of Onitsha was inviting “all Christ’s faithful and all men and women of good will to earnestly pray for the quick and safe release of the priest as we intensify our efforts to ensure his freedom.”

“We commend our brother to the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, for his speedy release from the hands of his kidnappers,” the statement said.

The Director of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law – called Intersociety – said kidnapping has become an epidemic in Nigeria.

“It’s very, very disheartening,” said Emeka Umeagbalasi.

“Talking about the number of Catholic priests, seminarians, reverend sisters and other Christian leaders, including the leaders of Pentecostal Churches, leaders of the African Instituted churches kidnapped in the last ten years, we should be talking about their numbers in hundreds,” he told Crux.

“This year alone, not less than ten Catholic priests have been abducted,” he said, and noted that the abductions are premised on two factors: economic and religious.

“There are those who abduct Catholic priests for purposes of advancing religious radicalism. The perpetrators under this category are jihadists, Fulani herdsmen and other jihadists,” Umeagbalasi said.

“The second category is those who abduct priests in order to collect ransom, and this is usually perpetrated by violent criminal entities,” he added.

In 2022, the Bishop of Sokoto in northern Nigeria, Mathew Hassan Kukah revealed that he had needed to spend around $20,000 to free some priests in his diocese from the hands of their captors.

“I am the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, I have spent … money I don’t have because my priests were kidnapped and I have nowhere to turn to. I am not ashamed to say it because these are essential realities,” Kukah said at the time.

The recent abductions tell the larger story of Christian persecution in Nigeria – a country of over 230 million people, nearly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.

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.

Last year, Intersociety issued a chilling report that revealed that at least 52,250 Christians had been killed in Nigeria since 2009 when the Islamist group Boko Haram began its murderous campaign to create a caliphate. Those numbers have since increased considerably.

Umeagbalasi said the wave of kidnappings and killings is evidence of the systemic failure of the country’s security apparatus.

“The investigative mechanisms in this country are dead among the security agencies; the intelligence is dead, the preventive policing is dead and the general security agencies in Nigeria are Islamic-inspired,” he told Crux.