Unidentified gunmen attacked a Catholic parish in northern Nigeria this week and abducted two priests and two unidentified boys as kidnappings and attacks on Christians carry on unabated in the African country.
The priests, identified as Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr. Oliver Okpara from the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, and two young boys were abducted from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Gidan Maikambo area of Katsina state’s Kafur Local Government Area early Wednesday, Vatican News reported.
The whereabouts of the four seized during the raid are not known, Fr. Chris Omotosho, the director of social communications for the Sokoto diocese, was quoted as saying.
“Kindly pray for their safety and release,” he added.
The kidnappings come a week after the death of Fr. Joseph Aketeh Bako from the Archdiocese of Kaduna who was abducted in March by gunmen from his residence in St. John Catholic Church in Kudenda area.
Earlier this month, radical Islamic militants from Islamic Fulani herdsmen or the Islamic State West Africa Province killed at least eight Christians, including children younger than 5, and wounded several others in an attack in Borno state.
The attackers had AK-47 rifles and shouted, “Allah Akbar [Allah is the greatest]” while firing indiscriminately, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
Weapons are being made available to militants in Nigeria through war-torn Libya. And in the country’s Northeast region, the terrorist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province have killed thousands and displaced millions in recent years.
In a report released last year, the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) estimated that about 10 million people had been uprooted in northern Nigeria, where extremist violence was most severe, from July 2009 to July 2021.
The report added that about 2,000 Christian schools were attacked during that time.
The atrocities included “massacres, killings, mutilations, torture, maiming, abductions, hostage-taking, rape, girl-child defilements, forced marriages, disappearances, extortions, forceful conversions and destruction or burning of homes and sacred worship and learning centers,” Intersociety reported.
Intersociety said the mass violence had resulted from the “propagation of radical Islamism.”
The Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from a Fulani background, attributes the violence in the Middle Belt states to decades-old farmer-herder clashes. However, Christian human rights advocates have accused the government of overlooking religious elements and not doing enough to protect Nigerian citizens.
Many have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of murders and kidnappings, which some groups warn have reached the level of genocide.
ICC identified Nigeria as one of its 2021 “Persecutors of the Year.”
“Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians, as 50,000 to 70,000 have been killed since 2000,” the ICC Persecutors of the Year report states.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. That is an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Additionally, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.