Unidentified gunmen attacked a Catholic parish in northern Nigeria this week and abducted two priests and two unidentified boys as kidnappings and attacks on Christians continue unabated in the African country.
The priests, identified as Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr. Oliver Okpara of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto and two young boys were abducted from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in the Gidan Maikambo area of the local government area of Kafur, Katsina State, early Wednesday, Vatican News reported.
The fate of the four people captured in the raid is not known, Father. Chris Omotosho, director of social communications for the Diocese of Sokoto, reportedly said.
“Please pray for their safety and release,” he added.
The abductions come a week after the death of Fr. Joseph Aketeh Bako of the Archdiocese of Kaduna who was abducted in March by gunmen from his residence at St. John’s Catholic Church in the Kudenda area.
Earlier this month, radical Islamic militants from the Islamic Fulani Herdsmen or the Islamic State West Africa Province killed at least eight Christians, including children under the age of 5, and took injured several others in an attack in Borno State.
The attackers had AK-47 rifles and shouted: “Allah Akbar [Allah is the greatest]while shooting indiscriminately, according to US-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
Weapons are being made available to militants in Nigeria via war-torn Libya. And in the northeast region of the country, terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province have killed thousands and displaced millions in recent years.
In a report released last year, the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) estimated that around 10 million people had been uprooted in northern Nigeria, where extremist violence was the most serious, from July 2009 to July 2021.
The report adds that approximately 2,000 Christian schools were attacked during this period.
The atrocities included “massacres, murders, mutilations, tortures, mutilations, kidnappings, hostage-taking, rapes, desecration of girls, forced marriages, disappearances, extortion, forced conversions and the destruction or burning of homes and centers of sacred worship and learning”. Intercompany reported.
Intersociety said the mass violence resulted from the “spread of radical Islamism”.
The Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from a Fulani background, attributes violence in Middle Belt states to decades-old clashes between farmers and herders. However, Christian human rights activists have accused the government of neglecting religious elements and not doing enough to protect Nigerian citizens.
Many have raised concerns about what they perceive to be the government’s inaction to hold terrorists accountable for the growing number of killings and kidnappings, which some groups say have reached the level of genocide.
The ICC has identified Nigeria as one of its 2021 “Persecutors of the Year”.
“Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians, with 50,000 to 70,000 killed since 2000,” the ICC’s Persecutors of the Year report said.
Open Doors USA, which monitors the persecution in more than 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. This is an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Moreover, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, compared to 990 a year earlier.