A Catholic priest's body was discovered last Saturday in Nigeria with apparent machete wounds while his brother remains missing following their abduction last week.
The Christian Association of Nigeria spoke out this week after the killing of Fr. John Gbakaan, a priest serving in the Minna Catholic Diocese in Kaduna state who was kidnapped by unidentified perpetrators.
“We received the news of the kidnapp[ing] and killing of our dear Rev. Father John with great shock and pains,” CAN’s Vice Chairman, the Rev. John Hayab, said in an interview with the Nigerian news outlet Vanguard published Sunday.
As reported by Agenzia Fides, a news service affiliated with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Gbakaan served at the Saint Anthony Church in Gulu. He was kidnapped last Friday along the road from Lambata to Lapai in the state of Niger in Nigeria’s troubled Middle Belt.
Fides confirmed the priest’s killing with Fr. John Jatau, the parish priest of St. Teresa Catholic Church in Madala, a suburb of Abuja.
Jatau said that Gbakaan went with his brother and another priest on Jan. 14 to visit his mother in Benue state.
On their return trip home on Jan. 15, Gbakaan and his brother were attacked by armed men around 9 p.m. After the abduction, the kidnappers reportedly demanded an initial ransom equivalent to nearly $80,000 from the diocese. The ransom was later reduced to the equivalent of $13,000.
According to local media cited by Catholic News Agency, Gbakaan’s body was found tied to a tree on Jan. 16 around the same spot he was abducted. His Toyota was also recovered. However, there are no signs of Gbakaan’s brother.
“Today in Northern Nigeria, many people live in fear, and many young people are afraid to become pastors because pastors’ lives are in great danger,” Hayab said.
“When bandits or kidnappers realize that their victim is a priest or pastor it seems a violent spirit takes over their hearts to demand more ransom and, in some cases, go to the extent of killing the victim.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria, as well as Catholic clergy, have spoken out in recent years against the troubling number of religious leaders who have been killed or kidnapped by armed criminals and terrorists.
Last February, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria mourned the killing of an 18-year-old seminarian who was abducted along with his classmates.
In January 2020, the world mourned the execution of the Rev. Lawan Andimi, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria’s chapter in the Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa state. Andimi made headlines when he praised God in a ransom video produced by Boko Haram militants. He was reportedly killed for his refusal to deny Christ.
In October 2020, the Islamic State West Africa Province released a proof-of-life video showing that it had abducted the Rev. Polycarp Zongo of the Church of Christ in Nations. It was reported last week that Zongo is still believed to be held by his captors.
As Christians in Nigeria face the threat of violence from Islamic extremist groups in the northeast, radicalized Fulani herders in the Middle Belt and armed bandits, the country ranks as one of the worst places in the world when it comes to the level of Christian persecution.
Nigeria is ranked No. 9 on Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List, a list of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians are most persecuted. Additionally, Nigeria was named by the U.S. State Department in 2020 to its list of “countries of particular concern.” The list identifies countries where religious freedom violations are either tolerated or perpetrated by the government.
Critics of President Muhammadu Buhari contend that his administration has not done enough to thwart troubling trends of violence taking place nationwide, whether that is the rise of extremism in the north or the deadly communal violence in the farm-rich Middle Belt.
International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, an Anambra-based civil society organization run by Christian criminologists Emeka Umeagbalasi, estimated in December that as many as 2,200 Christians were killed in 2020 across Nigeria.
“Sadly, those in power are wanting us to be singing their praises while our loved ones are being killed,” Hayab said. “No responsible citizen will enjoy criticizing his leaders for fun or because he hates them. Citizens criticize leaders so that they will sit up and do what is right.”
“We are simply pleading to the Federal Government and all security agencies to do whatever it will take to bring this evil to a stop,” he continued. “A person living in fear can never be productive and effective in the things he is doing. All we are asking from the government is protection from evil men that are destroying our lives and properties.”