A Nigerian Catholic priest abducted last week was hacked to death with machetes by his kidnappers, according to a report Monday.
The lifeless body of Father John Gbakaan, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Minna, in Nigeria’s expansive Middle Belt, was discovered tied to a tree near the road where he had been kidnapped, so severely disfigured by machetes that recognition was difficult.
The priest had been reported dead by fellow priest Father Ugochukwu Ugwoke on January 16.
Rev. Fr. John Gbakaan, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Minna, Nigeria was last night, abducted and killed by some gunmen.
In your charity, kindly join in praying for the repose of his soul. pic.twitter.com/k9zehAq1Dt
— Ugochukwu Ugwoke, ISch (@FrUgochukwu) January 16, 2021
The parish priest of Santa Teresa a Madala, Father John Jatau, said Sunday that Father Gbakaan had gone to Makurdi in the state of Benue on January 14 to visit his mother, accompanied by his brother and another priest.
On the way back on January 15, the priest and his brother were attacked by armed bandits along the Lambata-Lapai road around 9:00 pm. The gunmen abducted the two men and then called the diocese of Minna on Saturday demanding a ransom payment of thirty million Naira ($75,000), which they later reduced to five million Naira ($12,500).
The Toyota Venza in which the priest was traveling was found in the bush near his body. His brother is still missing and presumed to be in the hands of the bandits.
The Vice President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. John Hayab, called the killing of the Catholic priest “shocking and painful,” noting that insecurity for Christians has taken on an alarming dimension.
“We received the news of the kidnapping and killing of our dear Fr. John with great shock and pain,” said Father Hayab. “Today in northern Nigeria many people live in fear and many young people are afraid of becoming priests or pastors because their lives are in great danger.”
“When bandits or kidnappers realize that their victim is a priest or a pastor, it seems that a violent spirit takes hold of their heart to ask for a greater ransom and in some cases they go so far as to kill the victim,” Fr. Hayab added. “We are simply pleading with the federal government and all security agencies to do whatever it takes to end this evil.”
The identity of Father Gbakaan’s killers is still unknown. In Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Christians are often victims of violence from Muslim Fulani militants.
Radical Islamists raided a town in northeast Nigeria near Lake Chad this week, killing three soldiers and taking hundreds of villagers as hostages. https://t.co/h17X2ix2QJ
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) August 22, 2020
For years, local prelates have decried the inaction of the national government in the face of ongoing Islamic violence in Nigeria’s north and Middle Belt.
In 2019, the Archbishop of Kaduna, Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso, said that in his region “Christians are being killed like chickens.” Kaduna “is one of the states where everybody walks around afraid. There are kidnappers and bandits and they are killing people. Villages are being burned down,” he said.
“In other parts of the country if something happens, the president shows up. But here people are being killed and nothing is being done about it,” he added, insisting that the nation’s leaders “do not have the political will to address the issues, to enforce the provisions of the constitution regarding the equality of religions and the equality of citizens before the law.”
Two Catholic bishops have insisted that the violence represents a “clear agenda for Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt” by using armed Fulani raiders as weapons. One of the bishops, Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia, said in 2018 that the ongoing attacks are not random or economically motivated, but purposefully target Christians. “They want to strike Christians,” Bishop Audu said, “and the government does nothing to stop them, because President Buhari is also of the Fulani ethnic group.”
Last Wednesday, the Christian charity Open Doors released Watch List 2021, an index of Christian persecution, revealing that Nigeria was the country with the most murders of Christians for their faith in 2020.
Nigerian Bishop Moses Chikwe and his driver, who were abducted by gunmen on December 27, were released by their kidnappers late Friday, church officials report. https://t.co/0kb4qcEYVP
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) January 4, 2021
For the first time ever, Nigeria figured among the top ten countries where Christians face the most extreme and violent persecution, with Open Doors saying that “more Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.”
On December 7, 2020, the U.S. State Department designated Nigeria for the first time as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the short list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, countries are designated as CPCs for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing egregious violations of religious freedom.”