Two days ago, February 14, 2022, news broke that yet another Catholic Priest of Uromi Diocese, Very Rev Fr Dr Augustine Akhogba, has been Kidnapped, while on leave in the Catholic Diocese of Auchi.

The Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Uromi, Very Rev Fr Dr Hilary Odenore, broke the sad news at 21:03PM on Valentine’s Day. His memo read in part, “I regret to inform you that Fr Augustine Akhogba was abducted today along Afuze – Auchi road, in Auchi Diocese, where he is currently on vacation…”

As I put pen to paper, we await his safe release with bended knees, trusting that God will keep him safe.

As we continue to pray for the safe release of our dear brother, I personally think that a PROLONGED MASSIVE NATION-WIDE PEACEFUL PROTEST is long OVERDUE.

Yes, we must be collectively involved in doing SOMETHING POSITIVE to change the pathetic state of affairs of our dearly beloved country Nigeria.

This brings to mind the words of the German Theologian, Martin Niemöller, who is famous for his opposition to the Nazi regime of the German Dictator, Adolf Hitler: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This is the time to SPEAK OUT.

To further buttress my point, I will try to highlight SOME of the kidnapping/murder incidents involving religious, seminarians, and clergy in Nigeria, within the past few years.

Six years ago, precisely on the 24th of April, 2016, unknown gunmen abducted Fr. John Adeyi, then Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo. The cleric was later killed even after the kidnappers collected ransom for his release. His decomposing body was dumped in a farm near Otukpo days later. May his soul continue to rest in peace.

On the night of November 13, 2017, unknown armed gunmen gained access into the formation house of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ), and abducted Sr. Roseline Isiocha, Sr. Aloysius Ajayi, Sr. Frances Udi, who was visiting the religious community and three other aspirants in the early hours of November 14 with the aid of speedboats positioned inside the Ovia River behind the sisters’ house, at Iguoriakhi, near Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. The sisters spent more than two months in the hands of their abductors.

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, four seminarians, namely, Pius Kanwai, 19; Peter Umenukor, 23; Stephen Amos, 23; and Michael Nnadi, 18, were abducted in a 30-minute operation that saw the kidnappers, dressed in military uniform and armed with guns, force their way into Good Shepherd Catholic Major Seminary Campus, which is home to 268 seminarians.

While others were released many days later, news filtered in on the first day of February 2020, that Seminarian Michael Nnadi, of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, had been murdered in captivity. May he continue to rest in peace.

Two years ago, precisely February 13, 2020, Rev Fr Nicholas Oboh, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Uromi, was kidnapped along the Benin Auchi expressway, Edo State, Nigeria. Fr Nicholas spent five harrowing days in the hands of his abductors.

Months later, Rev Fr Dajo Matthew, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja was kidnapped in a violent attack in Yangoji, in the Gwagwalada area of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria, where his parish is located, in November 22, 2020. He also spent many days in the hands of his abductors.

At 8:00AM, Tuesday December 15, 2020, unknown gunmen abducted a Catholic Priest of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy (SMMM), Rev. Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, in Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria, who was on his way to bury his late father.

In a memo dated 28th December, 2020, released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, the Archbishop, His Grace, Most Rev. John Victor Obinna, announced the kidnapping of the Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Most Rev. Moses Chikwe.

An official letter from the office of the Chancellor, Rev. Msgr. Alphonsus Oha, on behalf of the Archbishop, further revealed that the Auxiliary Bishop was kidnapped in the night of Sunday 27th December 2020, around Site and Services, New Owerri, Imo State.

The following year, the Catholic Diocese of Minna called on all the faithful to kindly offer Masses and prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of Very Rev Fr John Gbakaan Yaji killed by unknown Gunmen on his way from a journey, on the 15th of January, 2021.

The Catholic Priest, who was barely four years in the Priesthood was said to have been a very gentle and humble priest, dedicated to the service of God and his people. May his soul continue to rest in peace.

On the 20th of May, 2021, a secular bearing the name of the Communications Director of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Fr. Chris Omotosho, made the rounds. Two Catholic priests had been kidnapped – Frs Joe Keke, and Fr Alphonsus Bello.

The following day, Friday 21st May, 2021, the body of Fr Alphonsus Bello was found (lifeless) in the farmland behind the Catechetical Traning School, Malunfashi. Fr Alphonsus Bello was a Priest of Kaduna Archdiocese, currently pastoring in the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. May his soul rest in God. Fr Joe Keke was later released.

Fr. Luka Benson Yakusak, parish priest of St. Matthew parish in Anchuna, in Ikulu Chiefdom, in the local government area of Zangon Kataf of the State of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria was kidnapped by armed men on the 13th of September 2021, by armed men who broke into his residence and took him to an unknown destination. He was released a day after his abduction.

In an official letter dated 12th October 2021, the Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, Rev Fr Emmanuel Uche Okolo, asked prayers for the safe release of three Theology Four Seminarians from Christ the King Major Seminary, who were abducted on October 11, 2021 at about 7:26PM Nigerian time. All three Seminarians were later released.

On the 24th of December, 2021, Rev. Fr. Luke Adeleke of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta was murdered by unknown gunmen on his way back from celebrating Mass in one of his outstations. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

On Sunday, February 6th, 2022, Fr. Joseph Danjuma Shekari, of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan was kidnapped around 11.30pm, by armed men who had stormed the parish house of St. Monica’s Catholic Church, Ikulu Parish, in Kauru Local Government Area, Kaduna State, Northern Nigeria. Unfortunately, the cook of the parish house was killed in the attack. He was however later released.

The list goes on, but for the sake of scope, let me conclude by making reference to the article I wrote in the aftermath of the kidnap and subsequent release of my priest brother and colleague, Rev. Fr Precious Martins Umahonlen, captioned, WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A KIDNAPPING?

Fr Martins, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Uromi, was kidnapped in September 2021, as he was returning from distributing communion to the sick, along Ukhun Road, Ukhun, Edo State, Nigeria. When I saw him after his release, he was a shadow of himself, and his body bore the wounds of the severe scourging he received from the hands of his abductors.

In the piece I wrote afterwards, I said, “We know the problem. Yet we can’t address it. We WON’T address it. “Throughout history, it has been the INACTION of those who could have acted, the INDIFFERENCE of those who should have known better, the SILENCE of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph”” – Haile Selassie.

What about the many lay faithful who are constantly kidnapped? What about those innocent citizens of this country who have lost their lives as a result of the insecurity in Nigeria? Men and women of various ethnic groups, religions, and political groups?

All is not well!

Hence while we pray, we must move away from our seemingly safe cocoons and begin speaking truth to power without fear.

We must OCCUPY the STREETS in LOUD but PEACEFUL PROTESTS against this FAILED GOVERNMENT. No one is safe. As I said in earlier write-ups, we’re sitting ducks, and we don’t know who will be next.

We await the HIGHEST ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITIES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NIGERIA to show us what to do, and how to do it.

May God continue to keep us safe; may those still in captivity find safe passage home, and may the dead continue to rest in peace, Amen.

© Oselumhense Anetor, 2022.