Nigeria: Abductions of Priests Part of Larger Phenomenon

May 30, 2023

The scourge of kidnappings of priests and clerics in Nigeria has been going on a long time and is part of a larger phenomenon of kidnappings that target foreigners, businessmen, politicians, civil servants, diplomats, and traditional leaders, but also ordinary citizens, including students and school children, who are often the victims of mass kidnappings.

From 2006 to 2023, 53 priests have been kidnapped, 12 attacked and 16 killed in the country. In seventeen years, 81 priests have been victims of attacks in Nigeria. These are the figures the Nigerian Episcopal Conference communicated to Agenzia Fides.

The north of the country is the region where the problem of kidnappings has long been linked to the presence of terrorist groups, starting with Boko Haram, whose splits have given rise to other groups, the most important being the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP). In recent years, the phenomenon has spread to different regions of Nigeria, particularly to the south, where the scourge is linked to secessionist demands.

In any case, it is not easy to distinguish between kidnappings committed by terrorist groups or by criminal groups seeking only to obtain financial gain. Terrorists and bandits actually have similar modus operandi.

Terrorists attack villages by looting property, seeking food and livestock, and kidnapping civilians; ordinary bandits commit similar actions, but do not openly claim them for ideological reasons.

Whether committed by terrorists or bandits, a number of forms of kidnapping have been listed:

• planned abductions of specific people identified in advance;

• random kidnappings, taking victims without excluding a selection to guarantee a higher ransom payment;

• mass abductions, through raids on villages, places of worship, including churches and mosques, schools, trains, and railway stations.

In the case of abductions of precisely chosen victims, there have been both abductions along the usual route of the subject to be abducted, nocturnal assaults in their dwellings, and “honey traps,” to attract the victim to the place where he is to be removed.

Most of the kidnapped priests were taken on the road or during attacks on their homes. In the first instance, it is sometimes thought that the priests may have been victims of random abduction, but there are examples of priests being specifically targeted and abducted in the street, often on their way to Mass or returning from a service.