Plagued by kidnappings of Christians, Nigeria sees priest, 36 others abducted in just a few days

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Father Marcellinus Obioma Okide, a Nigerian priest, is pictured in an undated photo. He was kidnapped Sept. 17, 2023, reportedly while on his way to St. Mary Amofia-Agu Affa Parish, where he serves as a parish priest. Six other people traveling with him also were kidnapped. The southern Enugu Diocese has asked for prayers for their safe release. (OSV News photo/courtesy Enugu Diocese) Editors: best quality available.

(OSV News) — In another chapter of an “evil scheme” plaguing Nigeria, the southern Enugu Diocese asked for prayers for Father Marcellinus Obioma Okide, who was kidnapped Sept. 17.

The priest was reportedly abducted on his way to St. Mary Amofia-Agu Affa Parish, where he serves as a parish priest. Six other people who were traveling with him also were kidnapped.

In a Sept. 18 release sent to OSV News, Father Wilfred Chidi Agubuchie, the diocesan chancellor and secretary confirmed the abductions, and called on the Christian community to pray for the priest’s safe release.

“The diocese requests your prayers for the quick and wholesome release of Father Okide and for a change of heart on the part of the kidnappers,” Father Agubuchie said.

“It is quite disheartening that this evil scheme is still plaguing our people,” he added.

Kidnappings throughout Africa

The kidnapping of Father Obioma Okide is not an isolated case.

According to a January report by the research organization SB Morgen Intelligence, no fewer than 39 Catholic priests were killed by gunmen in 2022, while 30 others were abducted. The report also showed that 145 attacks on Catholic priests were recorded within the same period.

In one of the most recent attacks, Father Paul Sanogo, a native of Mali, and Melchior Maharini, a seminarian from Tanzania, were released Aug. 23 after three weeks in captivity. Both men were kidnapped in Minna Diocese Aug. 2.

Christians in Africa’s largest nation have become prized targets for terrorist groups such as Fulani herdsmen, according to Emeka Umeagbalasi, chairman of Intersociety, a nongovernmental human rights organization.

Intersociety underlined in a Sept. 19 report that between Sept. 16 and Sept. 17, on top of kidnapping the priest and six other people, more than 30 passengers “and other road users” were abducted and disappeared by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. “The abductions had taken place in at least three different locations,” the report said.

Intersociety said it is “deeply shocked and dismayed that more than 30 defenseless citizens of the South-East were abducted in two days.”

In an interview with OSV News, Umeagbalasi said that “all the 30 people kidnapped are all Christians” and accused the federal government of doing nothing about it.

The work of Fulani herdsmen and other jihadists

He said about 22 communities and villages have been under the siege by the jihadist Fulani herdsmen and other assembled jihadists since 2022, accusing the government of former President Muhammaru Buhari of using such Fulani attacks to enhance an agenda of “Islamizing Nigeria.”

Johan Viljoen, director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute of the South Africa Catholic bishops’ conference, told OSV News that “the situation in Enugu is particularly severe. Enugu state shares a border with Benue state, which has been under sustained attack.”

He said the lack of response from the security forces could mean they are complicit in the attacks.

“Considering the complete absence of integrity on the part of the security forces, one can only assume that they are in cahoots with the kidnappers, and share in the profits,” he said.

“In Nigeria the security forces are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem,” he added.

As the country’s Christians wait for the release of Father Obioma Okide, the diocesan chancellor has only one appeal: Christ’s intervention.

“May the Lord who came to set captives free (Luke 4: 18) deliver our brother from the hands of our enemies and save our country Nigeria,” he said in a statement.

Ngala Killian Chimtom

Ngala Killian Chimtom writes for OSV News from Yaoundé, Cameroon.