On June 26, 2022, the Ikabigbo community in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State was thrown into panic following the reported abduction of an Edo Catholic priest, The Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia.
Odia was said to be coming out of his residence to go for Sunday mass at St Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo when he was whisked away by gunmen.
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Few hours after the news of his kidnap, it was announced that the priest had been killed by his abductors. The Catholic Diocese of Auchi had confirmed the death of the priest in a statement made available to journalists.
The statement was signed by the Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, The Rev. Fr. Peter Egielewa.
Part of the statement reads, “With heavy hearts but with total submission to the will of God, we announce the death of our priest, The Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia, who was killed by his abductors after being kidnapped this morning, June 26, 2022 about 6.30am in his rectory while coming out to go for Sunday mass at St. Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo, Uzairue, Edo State.”
Until his death, Fr. Odia, aged 41, was the administrator of the St. Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo and also the principal of the St. Philip Catholic Secondary School, Jattu.
Way back on January 15, 2021, a similar fate had befallen Fr. John Gbakaan, the parish priest of the Saint Anthony Church in Gulu in the diocese of Minna, who was kidnapped and later murdered along the road from Lambata to Lapai in Niger state.
Rev. Fr. Gbakaan, together with his brother and another priest, had reportedly gone to Makurdi in Benue State on January 14 to visit his mother. On the fateful day, however, the priest and his brother were ambushed by armed men on their way back along the road from Lambata to Lapai.
The kidnappers had reportedly demanded N30million, which they later reduced to N5m. However, the lifeless body of the priest was later found near the location of the incident. The Toyota Venza the priest was travelling in was also found in the bush.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the Catholic Church maintains a position of not paying ransom to kidnappers to secure release for any of its priests and officials.
Following the incident, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had asked the federal government to put an end to the abduction and killing of religious leaders by criminals in the country. The CAN’s vice chairman (North), Rev. Fr. John Hayab, while reacting to the killing of Fr. Gbakaan, described the incident as shocking and painful, adding, “We are simply pleading with the federal government and all security agencies to do whatever it would take to bring this evil to a stop.”
Similarly, in December 2021, bandits reportedly killed a pastor of the Evangelical Church of Winning All (ECWA), Nariya, Kaduna, The Rev Dauda Bature, after collecting ransom from his wife.
Bature was kidnapped on his farm in Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area of the state on November 18. His wife was also kidnapped by the hoodlums after delivering the ransom, but she was later released.
Rev Hayab, who confirmed Bature’s death at the time, said, “They (bandits) kidnapped her (Bature’s wife) too. On November 18, the bandits released the wife, and a few days later, killed the husband.”
While lamenting that the bandits took the life of the pastor despite collecting ransom from his family, Hayab appealed to security agencies to redouble their efforts in protecting the lives and property of Nigerians.
In another incident, the Catholic priest in charge of St. Anthony Parish, Angware community in Jos East Local Government Area of Plateau State, The Rev James Kantoma, was kidnapped by gunmen on June 13 this year.
His abductors, who later demanded N50m ransom, whisked him away on the fateful night at his house within the community when they invaded the area, shooting sporadically and eventually capturing and taking their victim to an unknown destination.
On the same day, kidnappers also reportedly abducted an Anglican bishop, The Reverend Oluwaseun Aderogba of Jebba Diocese, Kwara State, his wife and driver. They were kidnapped along the new Oyo-Ogbomoso expressway in Oyo State.
The police public relations officer in the state, Adewale Osifeso, who had confirmed the incident in a statement, explained that the incident was reported at Atiba divisional police headquarters.
Catholic priests top victims’ list
The incidents cited above are among a total of 62 reported cases of abductions targeted at Christian clergies in different parts of the country between January 2021 and July this year.
A survey carried out by Daily Trust Saturday based on media reports indicates that among the victims are 18 priests of the Roman Catholic Church. The remaining are of other denominations, including the ECWA, Apostolic, Anglican and the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
Four of the victims: The Rev. Fr. John Gbakaan of the Diocese of Minna; The Rev.Fr. Godfrey Chimezie of St. Theresa’s Parish, Umuahia; The Rev. Dauda Bature, a pastor of the ECWA, Nariya, Kaduna, and The Rev. Fr. Christopher Odia, a Catholic priest in Edo State, were reportedly killed by their abductors.
A total of N540m was demanded as ransom by the abductors for the release of seven of the abducted priests, but it was not clear how much was actually paid to secure their release.
An analysis of the abductions indicates that 27 priests were reportedly kidnapped between January and December last year (2021) while 32 others have so far been abducted between January and July this year, according to media reports.
In 2021, kidnapping incidents were reported in 11 states, namely, Delta (2 incidents); Niger (1 incident); FCT (1 incident); Kaduna (5 incidents); Ondo (2); Imo (1 ); Rivers (1), Abia (2); Lagos (1) and Cross River (1).
Between January and July this year, a total of 32 cases have so far been reported in 12 states, including Kaduna (2); Niger (2); Ekiti (1); Federal Capital Territory, FCT (2); Akwa Ibom (3); Ondo (1); Katsina (1); Benue (1); Kogi (2); Oyo (1); Plateau (2); Edo(3). In the last one week, three priests have also been kidnapped according to media reports while one was killed.
CSOs raise security concerns
The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) has expressed worry over the current spate of insecurity and attacks on Catholic priests and other clerics in the country.
In a statement by the executive director of the centre, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, the non-governmental organisation lamented that the emerging pattern of religious leaders and clerics being targeted for attacks, kidnapping or outright elimination had become one too many, as not a day passes without such an incident.
Zikirullahi said from the kidnapping of the Methodist prelate in Abia, Samuel Kanu, to the recurring abduction of Catholic priests, the religious dimension of recent violence necessitates introspection and a clear shift in strategy by those tasked with protecting lives and property.
He said the increasing pattern, if not resolutely confronted, could serve as a catalyst for a serious religious conflict in the country.
“As things stand, not a single day passes without citizens being subjected to violent attacks by a variety of criminal elements that leave a trail of sadness, tears and blood.
“While the escalating problem of insecurity knows no sectarian victim, there is data to show that in recent attacks, Catholic priests have come out worse off when counting the human cost of the insecurity in the country.
“The CHRICED is disturbed that spiritual leaders and clerics, who should be respected and honoured, are being targeted and murdered by mindless criminals.
“We are deeply concerned about Nigeria’s rising wave of insecurity and its implications for political stability. We call on officials saddled with the task of protecting lives and property to urgently change the fruitless strategy of waiting to see if the attacks and general wave of insecurity would end on their own,” he stated.
Similarly, the CHRICED condemned the federal government’s feeble posture in the face of the never-ending assault on the sanctity of human life, given the government’s failure to take decisive action to halt the rampant insecurity in the country.
“We call on the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council to uphold their oaths of office by taking drastic measures to save precious lives and our democracy, as well as restore effective governance.
“We urge all well-meaning organisations in the country and around the world to speak out and put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to end the current lack of a clear vortex of authority to deal with insecurity in the country.
“However, if President Buhari believes he is too weak or tired to take charge of protecting citizens’ lives and property as he was elected to do, the best option is for him to resign as president rather than subject the country to its current travails, where it is sliding towards the status of a failed state, where impunity reigns and people are at the mercy of bandits and insurgents.
“The government has a responsibility to protect all citizens; the sooner it begins to fulfil this responsibility, the better for our country’s stability,” he added.
In the same vein, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria has described the attacks on its priests and places of worship as signs of a sick society.
The Director of Communications, CSN, The Rev. Fr. Michael Umoh, said: “Our concerns are more for Nigeria as a nation because the attack on priests and sacred places is a symptom of a sick society.
Why kidnappers are targeting clerics — Security expert
Abuja-based security and intelligence expert, Kabiru Adamu, said the major reason behind the abduction of clerics is gaps in public security which is incapable of protecting them and other citizens.
“However, an additional predisposing factor that makes clerics veritable targets is their profile, which is majorly ostentatious but without the requisite security posture to deter would-be criminals or terrorists.
“Unfortunately public admittance of the payment of huge ransoms by some of them who were previous victims increases their targeting,” Kabiru said.
On the implication of this trend, he said it affects Nigeria’s fault lines: religion and ethnicity.
“The perception that the targeting of Christian clerics and the broad media narrative supporting this is reinforcing the strain on the religious fault line.
“In a preselection year, this has adverse consequences and will make the campaigns focused on issues outside the developmental needs of Nigeria.
“It could also trigger social upheavals and other security challenges,” Kabiru said.