The abduction of priests and religious in Nigeria has become so common that new cases barely register. Although most end up being released, in what has become a lucrative business for criminals, there have also been cases of fatalities, leaving Catholics in constant fear.
According to data collected by the international foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), as of 13 November the total number of priests, religious sisters and seminarians kidnapped in 2023 stands at 23, showing that abductions continue to be the biggest threat to the safety of clergy and religious individuals in that country. Of these, one was brutally killed while the other 22 were released. A further two priests and one seminarian were murdered during the year so far.
The first incidents in 2023 took place in January, with one kidnapping in the Diocese of Ekiti and the horrific murder of Fr Isaac Achi in Minna, who was burned to death when his parish residence was attacked and set on fire. Father Achi’s colleague, Fr Collins, was shot and wounded as he tried to escape, but survived. There followed three months without new cases, but since April not a month has gone by without at least one kidnapping. The most recent case occurred in November when Fr Andrew Anana was held for less than 24 hours. He had already been kidnapped before, in 2019.
The vast majority of those kidnapped end up being released, but there have been tragic exceptions. One of the most serious cases took place on 17 October, when Brother Godwin Eze, a Benedictine novice, and two aspiring Benedictines were forcefully taken from their monastery. When the two postulants were released, three days later, they informed their superiors that Godwin had been shot and his body thrown into a river.
Just a few days earlier, three sisters had also been taken by armed men. Rosemary Osiowhemu, and Josephine Mary Chinyekwuo, from the Missionary Daughters of Mater Ecclesiae, and Maria Ngozi Okoye, of the Congregation of the Risen Lord, were heading to Mbano, in Imo State, in the south of the country, to attend the funeral of the mother of one of their sisters, when they were abducted, along with a seminarian and their driver. All were safely released after about one week, bringing relief to the local Christian community.
September 7 was an especially tragic day for Nigerian Christians, with two separate attacks on seminarians. Ezekiel Nuhu was kidnapped with his father while on holiday and spent almost two months in captivity before being released in November. Less fortunate was Na’aman Danlami, 27, of the diocese of Kafanchan, who lost his life in the rectory of the parish where he was assisting two priests, when the location was attacked. The two priests managed to escape, but Danlami died when the criminals set the house on fire, suffering the same fate as Fr Isaac Achi in January.
A further priest was murdered in 2023, bringing the total of murdered religious to four, the same as in the entire previous year.
A year steeped in blood
Since 2022, ACN has been documenting cases of Catholic clergy and religious who were murdered, kidnapped or unlawfully arrested, all over the world, and these numbers will be published towards the end of the year. Last year there were 118 separate incidents, including 16 priests and religious sisters murdered in cases of persecution, and two others who were killed, but for reasons apparently unrelated to persecution.