Of Aidoghie Paulin And Fred EzeAbuja
The The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and priests from various archdioceses and dioceses across the country have sounded the alarm over the ongoing kidnappings and killings of priests in the country.
The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and Archbishop of Owerri, Reverend (Dr) Lucius Ugorji and some Catholic priests sounded the alarm in separate talks with Sunday from Saturday.
The priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, the national capital, also spoke with Sunday from Saturday in separate interviews. Their views were in no way different from those of their fellow priests across the country.
In recent times, the Catholic Church has witnessed kidnappings and, in some cases, murders of priests. Saturday Sun collected from the Catholic Secretariat that some of the affected archdioceses and dioceses include Sokoto, Kaduna, Uromi, Auchi, Abeokuta, Issele-Uku, Otukpo, Minna, Pankshin, Ondo, Kafanchan, Zaria, Kano, Abuja, Lokoja and Jos.
Also on the list are Enugu, Orlu, Maiduguri, Owerri, Kotangora and Ijebu Ode.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna, had in a statement issued last Sunday by its Chancellor, the Very Reverend Father Christian Emmanuel, said the Reverend Fr. Vitus Borogo was killed at Prison Farm, Kujama, along the Kaduna-Kachia road, after a raid on the farm by terrorists. Borogo, 50, was until his death the Catholic Community Chaplain at Kaduna State Polytechnic and the President of the Nigerian Association of Catholic Diocesan Priests (NCDPA), Kaduna Chapter.
In quick succession, the Reverend Father Christopher Odia, a priest of the Catholic diocese of Auchi, was kidnapped from his presbytery as he prepared for mass.
The Director of Social Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Reverend Father Peter Egielewa, in a statement released in Auchi, Edo State, said Odia was killed by his captors after being abducted in the morning of June 26, 2022, at around 6:30 a.m. at his parsonage on his way out to attend Sunday Mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Ikabigbo, Uzairue, Edo State.
Egielewa also said that until his death, Odia was the administrator of St Michael’s Catholic Church, Ikabigbo and also the principal of St. Philip’s Catholic Secondary School, Jattu, Etsako West Local Government Area, Edo State. He was 41 years old.
Bishop Ugorji said Sunday from Saturday that given the increasing number of priests who have been killed or kidnapped in different parts of the country in recent times, it is obvious that Catholic priests are targets.
The former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia however said that the faceless and bloodthirsty terrorists responsible for such despicable acts are making a mistake if they think they can intimidate or silence the church by unleashing horrible terror on its leaders.
Ugorji said, “The church cannot be silenced. He will always rise up to condemn evil and defend the rights of the oppressed and deprived.
“Given the enormous resources and intelligence services available to the government, it cannot be said that the government is powerless in the face of terrorist activities in the country. On the contrary, he is actively complicit in it and takes full responsibility for the murder of innocent unarmed citizens.
Ugorji further wondered how the government could explain its inability to unmask terrorists or disarm them.
Ugorji added: “How can a government that was able to arrest the head of IPOB in a distant country not arrest and prosecute terrorists who operate freely in the country? The government should fulfill its constitutional responsibility to protect the lives and property of its citizens. Where it does not, it encourages its citizens to resort to their right of self-defence, which is a path to total anarchy.
However, a priest from the Catholic diocese of Auchi, the Rev. Polycarp Imoagene, said he did not feel particularly targeted. However, he said Sunday from Saturday that he feels a member of an endangered species.
Offering a solution to the threat, Imoagene said the situation could be resolved through personal and community help.
Also speaking with Sunday from Saturdaya priest from the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna, Reverend Father George Odafe, said priests are specifically targeted for decimation.
Odafe said, “Yes, we are an endangered species. I guess the bandits were tricked into understanding that the priesthood is the mitochondria and the turning point of church life. Cutting the priesthood will encourage the exponential decline of Christianity in northern Nigeria. I guess it’s because the Islamic rulers in the North probably realized that Christianity is not in small numbers as they thought and propagated it. Gombe State has a large number of Christians. Plateau, Benue and Taraba are predominantly Christian. There could actually be a gender divide between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna State. Muslims used political structures to dominate. But Christians continue to grow among the natives of Borno, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano, etc. The natives of these states become priests and bishops. So they designed these attacks to slow the spread of Christianity.
Odafe added that the solution to the problem is in the hands of the government.
He said: “The government knows who they are and knows how to deal with this problem, but they are not interested. Unless they want people to take up arms and defend themselves. The government must act urgently. The level of collapse describes Nigeria as a failed state.
On his part, a priest from the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos, Reverend Father Stephen Akpe, said he was reminded of the book “Ovoramwen Nogbaisi” which he read in college.
“It is the story of how the British government conquered and exiled the King to Calabar and the story ends with these salient words: ‘When the mother hen is taken away, her chicks scatter,'” said Akpe.
The Deputy Coordinator of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos further stated that as a young priest during the Jos crisis, he was called the native doctor of the infidels.
“I will rely on the advice of our bishops and on my experience as a development practitioner, namely to put in place early warning systems: be vigilant, restrict movement, report suspicious people, engage security guards, secure whistles, strengthen parish security, and finally count on prayers, God’s help,” said Akpe, a doctoral student in mediation and conflict resolution at Euclid University, USA.
The director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, the Very Reverend Father Benjamin Achi, said he felt priests were now particularly targeted.
“Recent events across the country do not suggest otherwise. There have been several incidents of clerics being kidnapped or even killed and sometimes we have more than one such occurrence in a day. It will therefore not be out of place to say that priests are now an endangered species.
“It’s not really about a powerless government. It’s more about not having the political will to tackle the problem head on. A government that fails as citizens are killed daily in unprovoked attacks is unquestionably guilty of sheer ill will or complicity. This is the bad situation we found ourselves in.
Also taking the floor, a priest from the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, the Rev. Oluoma John Chinenye, said, “Honestly, I don’t know what to say beyond the obvious. Priests are not immune to what has afflicted society. Obviously, Nigeria is plagued by insecurity and this affects everyone, including priests who also live with people from the same society.
“So the number one reason why Catholic priests are being attacked and killed in some cases is perhaps because of the heightened insecurity in Nigeria that everyone is potentially a victim of, in addition to government failure that could be seen in all areas of our national life. , especially the economy.
For his part, the Rev. Mike Umoh of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) said the government should be in a better position to answer the question of why Catholic priests are now targeted by armed non-state actors.
Umoh said, “Not only the priests are attacked; Christians, Catholics, Nigerians are all under this endless attack. The government is in the best position to explain to Nigerians what is happening in Nigeria. It is simply a general disaster.
The Superior of the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Very Rev. Paul Ubebe, also said that it was a difficult time, not only for Catholic priests, but for the whole Christian faith and the whole nation.
Ubebe, however, called on the people to rise up and participate in the ongoing electoral process that would herald the emergence of new political leaders in 2023, to avoid the horrific experience of the past seven years.
In his contribution, the director of social communications of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, the Reverend Father Chris Omotosho, recalled that the recent kidnapping in the Diocese of Sokoto took place on May 25, 2022.
Omotosho said that prior to the incident, the attack on St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, Malunfashi on May 21, 2021 (about a year) where fathers Joe Keke and Alphonsus Bello were kidnapped.
Omotosho said, “Father. Bello was killed and thrown into the farmhouse behind the church. In my direct conversation with Father Stephen Ojapa, MSP (just released from captivity), it is obvious that he was the primary target. This act was committed by Fulani Muslims. These Fulani do not know Father Ojapa or any of those chosen with him. When they entered, their question was “Who/Where is Fada?” They don’t know anything about him, but he was sold by someone who does. Thus, Father Stephen Ojapa was their main target.
Omotosho, however, said the situation could be resolved by remaining very resilient and praying.
“If you think you can defend yourself, feel free, but know that even if they don’t succeed the first time, they will come back stronger. We need radical change, a revolutionary street and a popular president who will change the face of Nigeria,” he said.