New reports highlight the growing kidnap crisis in Nigeria, where Christians are regarded as soft targets for abduction. As another church leader is killed by his abductors, Release International calls on Nigeria to protect vulnerable Christian communities.
Earlier this year, a report by UK parliamentarians heard that almost 90 per cent of all the Christians kidnapped worldwide are abducted in Nigeria.
According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need 5,200 Christians were kidnapped in Nigeria between January 2021 and June 2022. And this year, by mid-November, 23 clergy and church workers had been abducted and several murdered.
Lagos-based research group SBMIntel put the death toll among clergy even higher. They report that 39 Catholic priests were killed in 2022. Protestants have also been targeted.
On November 17 it was reported that kidnappers killed a pastor after receiving a 1m naira ransom payment from his church. Morning Star News reported that the Rev David Musa, of ECWA church in Lokoja County, was killed after being held for three days. He was shot dead after the agreed ransom had been paid.
UK-based Release International has long been highlighting the growing insecurity facing Christians in Nigeria. Islamist militants, including Boko Haram, Islamic State (West Africa Province) and radicalised Fulani extremists, have been targeting Christians communities in the north and Middle Belt. Large numbers of ordinary Nigerians are being murdered or driven from their homes.
‘Through an epidemic of kidnapping and murder, terrorists are forcing Christians from their homes in an attempt to Islamise the north. And increasingly, they are turning their attention further south,’ warns Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International.
During a fact-finding visit to Nigeria, RI visited Christians who had been attacked in various communities around the north. One was Monday Ali, whose home in Niger state was attacked by Fulani militants.
He was away when word came that his home had been raided. Twenty-nine-year-old Monday, a farmer, returned to find a scene of devastation. ‘They killed my parents and burned their houses and their bodies. And they kidnapped my five sisters and brothers.’
Fourteen members of Monday’s extended family were abducted. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of either 20m naira (more than £20,000) or Kalashnikov assault rifles.
They allowed him to call his sisters, who are aged 16 – 20, who told him: ‘they are holding them as sex slaves.’ He continued: ‘My sisters said even if I could pay the ransom, they would never let them go.’
Monday and his entire family are Christians. He says: ‘When I read the Bible, I am comforted. I can forgive, but it is very hard to forget what happened. Please pray that my sisters are released from captivity, so I can give God the glory.’
A new report by International Christian Concern claims more than 500 Christians were killed in 55 attacks over a four-month period to July.
ICC write: ‘Christians experience a disproportionate share of the killings and kidnappings. Nigeria has become a burial ground for believers of the Christian faith [and] is arguably the most dangerous place to be a Christian in the world today.’
Their findings are supported by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Freedom of Religion and Belief. The APPG heard that ‘more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in the rest of the world combined’.
At the end of October, Tablet magazine reported a warning by Catholic bishops that Nigeria had been taken over by insurgents, militia and criminal gangs who regarded the clergy as ‘soft targets’.
In a recent attack, Benedictine monk Godwin Eze was abducted by a gang demanding ransom. A call to his monastery betrayed the gang’s religious intentions. They demanded to know why the monk’s community were worshipping Jesus.
They said: ‘You are wasting your time praying to him. You are worshipping an idol.’ The monk was eventually murdered by gunmen described as radicalised Fulani bandits.
Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi told Keep the Faith: ‘Christians are facing terrible choices in Nigeria. They are being targeted.’
In another recent abduction, a kidnap gang seized a 20-year-old chemistry student who was an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Students at Kaduna State University.
Dorcas Adedayo Adekanola was able to get a message to her parents that she had been taken to an imam’s house and kept against her will. She had been forced to convert to Islam by renouncing Christianity and reciting the Islamic creed.
Campus Mission Watch told Morning Star News that the abduction was creating fear and causing some Christians to want to quit the university. They described a well financed movement to put pressure on students and staff to convert to Islam.
‘All these reports confirm that Nigeria has become the kidnap capital of the world – and Christians are being targeted in an attempt to drive them off their lands,’ says Paul Robinson, CEO of RI.
‘Some of these attacks can be put down to banditry and lawlessness, others are the singling out of Christian leaders and their communities. Thousands of Christians have been killed or abducted in recent years. These moves are designed to drive Christians from their villages and create a climate of fear.’
According to SBMIntel the recent wave of abductions has led to ransom payouts amounting to 302m naira (£288,000).
‘These punitive ransom demands further impoverish Christian communities and undermine their will to remain in their lands,’ says Paul Robinson.
Release International partner and former Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, says the abduction epidemic began with Boko Haram kidnapping schoolgirls and killing Christians.
‘Today, the terror groups include Fulani herdsmen killers and a criminal element whose main business is to kidnap for ransom. They kidnap mainly pastors, worshippers on Sundays and children of influential Christians. The aim is to make sure the church is terribly poor and impoverished.’
Release International is calling for tighter security to protect Nigeria’s vulnerable Christian communities: ‘Nigeria must act immediately to safeguard its Christian minority in the north and to eradicate this epidemic of abductions,’ says Paul Robinson.
Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families. It also supports Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.