YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A surge in kidnappings has hit Nigeria’s Catholic clergy, with two more priests abducted within the past two weeks.

Father Christian Ike –the parish priest of St. Matthew’s Church in Ajalli, Anambra State, was taken on June 16 alongside Mr. Ogbonnia Aneke after a church service.

The kidnapping was confirmed by the Chancellor of Ekwulobia Diocese, Father Lawrence Nwankwo.

“When they arrived at the junction of Amagu, their vehicle was stopped by armed men who came in three vehicles. While two people managed to escape, the attackers took the priest and another person and also stole some personal belongings of the vehicle’s occupants,” Nwankwo said in a June 16 statement.

The recent kidnapping marks a disturbing trend of violence against religious figures in Africa’s most populous nation.

Father Gabriel Ukeh was kidnapped June 9 from the rectory of St. Thomas Parish in Zaman Dabo in Kaduna State. He was freed 24 hours later.

“Father Uke once spent a month in my parish while on holiday. I had the privilege of listening to stories of the daily risk he and his parishioners face as a result of unrelenting attacks by these terrorists,” said Father Moses Lorapu, the Director of Communication at the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi in Benue State, Nigeria.

“His kidnapping was, therefore, no news to me,” he told Crux.

Father Oliver Buba of Yola Diocese regained his freedom on May 30 after spending nine days in captivity.

Earlier, on May 15, the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha announced the abduction of Father Basil Gbuzuo, who was also later set free.

Other Christians are also facing kidnappings.

On February 28, seventeen Christians were dragged from their homes in Gonin Gora, near Kaduna City, and marched into the dense forest in northeastern Niger State. These people are still being held, and the kidnappers are demanding a $27 million ransom, according to Rev. David Ayuba Azzaman, pastor of the Kings Worship Centre Kaduna who spoke to the terrorists by phone.

The persistent kidnappings, and the government’s apparent inaction, have sparked outrage among Christian leaders, leading to accusations of a “conspiracy of silence” among Nigeria’s elected officials.

“Where is the outrage from the world leaders?” asked Kyle Abts, executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria.

“Where is the outrage from Nigerian leaders? On June 3, three Christians were just executed by the radical Islamic terrorists, ISWAP. These Islamic terrorists allowed Muslims to flee, but retained the Christians for their propaganda video, which shows their execution. President Tinubu claims that he is, ‘taking the battle terrorists’ but has done little to stop kidnappings and killings, which often occur on federal roads and property,” Abts said.

Lorapu told Crux those of people wounded by historical divisions and sustained religious persecution are “battling inwardly with our faith and the authenticity of what we have preached about forgiveness and the oneness of this country.”

“We are at a crossroads to trust the Western world to defend us against these enemies of civilization,” the priest said.

“There are luminous facts that categorically indict the Nigerian government in the persecution of Christians. There is no justifiable reason for millions of Benue citizens, for instance, to be subjected to dehumanizing conditions in internally displaced person’s camps for decades,” he said.

“The international humanitarian organizations that come witness these appalling conditions and fail to condemn and present the correct narrative are as guilty as the perpetrators and the government,” Lorapu added.

Nigeria now has the infamous distinction of having the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Every year, at least 4,000 Christians are killed in the country, according to Global Christian Relief.

In an April 2023 report, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law,(Intersociety) said that at least 52,250 persecuted Christians had been killed in the past fourteen years, simply for their faith.

The anti-Christian violence was initially significantly localized in the north, where twelve Muslim majority states declared sharia law in 1999, and the rise of extremist group Boko Haram in 2009 worsened the situation.

However, the violence has in the past five years spread southwards to the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria, with radicalized Fulani herdsmen killing Christians and taking over their lands.

“Nigerian Christians are living dangerously on thin lines of fortune,” Lorapu told Crux.

“The kidnappings and killings are steadily becoming normalized, and gradually, the Islamic terrorists are winning. Their bigots who are in positions of authority do not pretend about their mission to Islamize Nigeria, yet Christians who are in similar positions choose political correctness,” he said.

“We have seen how interminable the search for reconciliation lasts in nations that descended into war, Nigeria has been heading that path for over two decades, and the cost will resonate beyond the African continent,” the priest continued.

Lorapu called on the West to rethink its passivity on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria “before the catastrophic explosion happens.”