The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria is mourning the murder of an 18-year-old seminarian abducted earlier this month along with three other seminarians who have since been released.
The body of Micahel Nnadi was discovered along with the remains of Bola Ataga, the wife of Kaduna Dr. Phillip Ataga, on the Kaduna-Abuja Highway in Kaduna state.
As the security situation in Nigeria continues to deteriorate, that roadway has become notorious for kidnappings carried out by bandits and gangs.
Nnadi and the three other seminarians ages 18 to 23 — Pius Kanwai, Peter Umenukor and Stephen Amos — were kidnapped on Jan. 8 at the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna by unknown assailants.
Last Friday, CBCN announced in a statement by conference registrar Father Joel Usman that three of the seminarians had been released by their captors. But Usman explained that Nnadi was still detained and called for continued prayers.
The next day, however, Usman issued another Facebook post explaining that Nnadi’s body had been found.
“With a very heavy heart, I wish to inform you that our dear son, Nnadi was murdered by the bandits on a date we cannot confirm,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said in a statement. “He and the wife of a doctor were arbitrarily separated from the group and killed.”
An unnamed member of the seminary’s teaching staff told the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need that Nnadi was an “orphan brought up by his grandmother” and that he was a “young and gifted seminarian.”
“Just a few weeks ago, after a year of spiritual preparation, he had been clothed in the soutane,” the source was quoted as saying. “It seems that his only crime was his desire to serve God. The security forces and the government have failed him.”
According to Aid to the Church in Need, one of the three seminarians released by the captors previously was found badly wounded on the side of the highway.
As for Ataga, she was kidnapped from her home along with her two children on Jan. 24. A ransom amount was demanded that the family was not able to meet.
While Ataga’s body was found with bullet wounds, the whereabouts of her children are not known. However, Vanguard reports that the captors have lowered the ransom amount for the children.
In his Facebook post, Usman called for believers to pray for the “great distress” in Nigeria.
“Please let us remain faithful in the Risen Lord,” Usman said. “May the soul of our Brother Nnadi Michael and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace with the Lord.”
Armed kidnappings have become an increasing problem across Nigeria.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, at least 30 people to as many as 100 were abducted in one night alone last month by men wearing military fatigues.
According to CFR, militant and criminal groups including Boko Haram resort to kidnapping as a means of raising funds through ransom payments. Although kidnapping for ransom was something more common in southern Nigeria, the trend has spread throughout the country in recent years.
Last summer, Kaduna pastor Jeremiah Omolara of Living Faith Church was killed and his wife abducted while they were traveling on the Abuja-Kaduna highway. It was alleged at the time that the captors demanded a ransom equivalent to $137,500.
Last February, bandits reportedly kidnapped and killed an Anglican priest from the Diocese of Sokoto in the Zamfara state and dumped his body on the roadside. His wife and children were also said to have been abducted.
Along with deadly attacks and abductions by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and violence between herdsmen and farming communities in the Middle Belt, the spread of armed banditry is another indication of the level of insecurity plaguing the country.
“The Nigerian government is facing an enormous challenge,” ACN Executive President Thomas Heine Geldern said in a statement. “The insecurity is as bad as in times of civil war. Nigeria is a multifaith and multi-ethnic nation, and security must be provided for all.”
The Nigerian newspaper The Punch’s editorial board warned readers last year that traveling on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway has “become an unspeakable nightmare for Nigerians.”
In December, the U.S. State Department placed Nigeria on its “special watch list” of countries that engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom due to the government’s inability to thwart violence and hold perpetrators to account.
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.