Gunmen abducted a Catholic priest in Nigeria Sunday, just as Catholic bishops and faithful were marching in protest for the ongoing violence against Christians and government’s failure to effectively address the issue.
Father David Echioda was kidnapped at around 5:30pm along the road as he was returning from a missionary journey to celebrate Mass in the village of Utonkon. According to an eyewitness, the gunmen first took the priest’s phone and smashed it and then drove him to an unknown location in his own vehicle.
The abduction took place in Benue State, south-central Nigeria, a region that has been in turmoil since April 2016. Islamist Fulani militants have targeted Christians there in an effort to gain “a military foothold in the area,” local media report.
The director of information for the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo, Father John Okopopu, confirmed the abduction, adding that the kidnappers have yet to contact the priest’s family.
Local media reports have failed to discover motives for singling out the priest for abduction, since he is “certainly not the most vocal or activist of the priests in area and is not connected with any wealth that might attract ransom seekers.”
Four years ago, the vicar general of the Catholic diocese of Otukpo, Father John Adeyi, was kidnapped in the same area and later killed by his abductors.
Last January 8, gunmen stormed the Good Shepherd Catholic Major Seminary in Kaduna State, central Nigeria, kidnapping four Catholic seminary students. Three of the abducted seminarians were set free, but the fourth one, 18-year-old Michael Nnadi, was executed.
On Sunday, Nigerian bishops and Catholic faithful marched in the nation’s capital of Abuja to protest the ongoing abductions and slaughter of Christians by Islamist militants.
Led by the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akubueze, the protesters claimed the federal government of Muhammadu Buhari has been indifferent to the plight of Christians and ineffective in dealing with the violent epidemic.
“The killing of God’s children is evil; the failure to protect innocent people from the relentless attacks is evil; the lack of prosecution of terrorists is evil; our government’s response to terrorist attacks is, for lack of better words, far below average,” Archbishop Akubueze stated.
“There have been too many mass burials, too many kidnappings of school children, travelers, invasion of people’s homes, invasion of sacred places like churches, mosques and seminaries,” he said.
According to a Wall Street Journal report from December 2019, Islamist Fulani raiders are waging a brutal war on Nigeria’s Christians, in a campaign to rid the country’s Middle Belt of non-Muslims.
Fulani extremists now pose a greater threat than the Islamic terror group Boko Haram, wrote Bernard-Henri Lévy, and the fighters carry out systematic attacks involving burning, raping, maiming, pillaging, and killing.
This “slow-motion war” against Nigeria’s Christians is “massive in scale and horrific in brutality,” wrote Lévy, and yet “the world has hardly noticed.”
While mainstream media normally describe the attacks on Christians as ethnically motivated, this description is false, Lévy insisted, the work of “professional disinformers.”
“They are Islamic extremists of a new stripe,” said a Nigerian NGO director interviewed by Lévy, “more or less linked with Boko Haram.”
In the most recent (2020) World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution, compiled by Christian watchdog group Open Doors, Nigeria ranked number 12.