On Sunday August 21, 2022, armed men abducted four Catholic nuns in Imo State, in southeastern Nigeria. They were abducted near the town of Okigwe as they were returning from a thanksgiving Mass.
“We are on the trail of the kidnappers with a view to freeing the victims,” explained the spokesperson for the Imo police. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
These four sisters belong to the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus the Savior, founded in 1985 in the diocese of Port Harcourt. According to Agenzia Fides, Johannes Nwodo, Christabel Echemazu, Liberata Mbamalu and Benita Agu were abducted along the Okigwe-Umulolo road in Imo State, southeastern Nigeria.
Okigwe and Leru regions, located between Imo and Abia states, are affected by increasing incidents of kidnapping. The latest incident occurred around nine days after gunmen abducted a Catholic priest and a seminarian along the Obigwe-Umunneochi road between the two states. The two men were released shortly thereafter.
Kidnappings are frequent in Africa's most populous country, hit by a serious economic crisis and grappling with near-generalized crime. While some hostages are sometimes killed, most are released after payment of a ransom.
In recent months, the clergy have been increasingly targeted by criminals seemingly not for religious or ideological reasons, but rather because the Church is perceived to have the ability to mobilize the faithful to pay the ransoms.
Southeast Nigeria is also experiencing an upsurge in violence blamed on the Independence Movement for the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (Ipob). The Ipob, which wants to see the rebirth of a separate state for the Igbo ethnic group, has repeatedly denied responsibility for the violence in the region.
The proclamation of independence by the Republic of Biafra led to a 30-month civil war between 1967 and 1970. The conflict left more than one million people dead, mostly Igbo, mostly from starvation and disease.