Nigerian priests face increasing threat of kidnapping and murder

“Priests are soft targets because people know that they cannot easily defend themselves and this exposes them to the kidnappers.”
– Auxiliary Bishop,  Ernest Obodo, Enugu Diocese

Writing in the National Catholic Report (12 July 2019), the African award-winning freelance journalist, Patrick Egwu, has written a disturbing article from Enugu, Nigeria, about the increasing threat of kidnapping – and murder – faced by Nigerian priests.

Egwu’s article begins with the abduction of Fr. Clement Ugwu of St. Mark Catholic Church, Enugu, as he was returning to his parish house on the evening of March 13th last. He was shot as he tried to escape and his decomposing body was found a week later, 20 kilometers from his home. 

Egwu states that a 2018 global kidnapping report from Constellis listed Nigeria first among the top 10 countries for kidnapping of foreign citizens in March-April 2018, a list that included Mexico, Cameroon and South Africa.

“There has been a wave of kidnappings in Nigeria over the years,” Egwu writes. “Politicians, foreigners, businessmen and individuals from wealthy homes are often targeted for ransom. And when the ransom is not paid, the kidnappers in most cases assassinate their victims, inflict them with injuries or sexually assault them…”

Referring to the abduction and murder of Fr. Ugwu, Ernest Obodo, auxiliary bishop of the Enugu Diocese told Patrick Egwu:

“The police didn’t do enough. If they had acted swiftly, they would have rescued him. Priests are soft targets because people know that they cannot easily defend themselves and this exposes them to the kidnappers. For instance, a soldier or a policeman with guns is more difficult to abduct because you will have to struggle with him to dislodge his firearms, but a priest celebrating Mass at the altar doesn’t have a gun and cannot defend himself.”

“Nigeria is in the middle of security crises,” Egwu informed NCR, “with the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, militancy in the Niger Delta and frequent herder clashes with local farmers in the Middle Belt region, which have all claimed thousands of lives over the years.”

Egwu quotes the International Crisis Group in stating that over 1,000 people were killed in the herder-farmer conflict in the first half of 2018. “The government has come under immense criticism for not doing enough to protect the citizens even as security personnel are undertrained and poorly funded.”

Bishop Obodo told Egwu:

“If you want to talk of security, talk of justice in the land, because when there is no justice, like youths going to school and coming back and there are no jobs, you cannot control what they do. Sometimes these youths are engaged as political thugs and given guns during elections. After elections, these guns are not always collected from them so they use [them] to kidnap people and become criminals, and go for soft targets by kidnapping priests. So it is really a terrible thing and it is getting worse every day. Everybody is afraid and no one knows what will happen tomorrow. So we are asking the government to do more to protect the citizens.”

Following the attack and murder of Fr. Ugwu, his parishioners and the wider community have set up a local vigilante team to protect themselves, especially at night. 

Dennis Iloeze, a member of the parish council told NCR:

“We don’t want this type of sad development in our community again, that is why we took this step. But we want the government to help us to equip the vigilante men to make them work better.”

Three weeks after the killing, Ugwu’s car was founded in a nearby community where the gunmen had abandoned it. The police arrested two members of the gang and promised to charge them. Now Ugwu’s parishioners hope that this will be the last case of kidnapping and killing of a priest in Nigeria.

You may read the full article by clicking here.