KADUNA, Nigeria—Nigeria’s pandemic of kidnapping for ransom is bankrupting church communities in the nation’s northern states, and despite vows from police to remedy the problem, there’s no end in sight.
In the most recent kidnapping, a gang believed to be Fulani militants struck a Catholic seminary on Oct. 11.
The International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) estimates that Nigeria has recorded more than 4,500 kidnappings this year, according to Kyle Abts, ICON executive director.
“ICON estimates that the average ransom is about US$10,000 each and that of the 4,500 kidnappings, more than 2,500 have been perpetrated this year specifically targeting Christians,” Abts told The Epoch Times.
“That means there has been over $25 million paid,” Abts said. “This leaves the Christian community suffering both financially, physically, but also spiritually. The impact of kidnappings and ransom payments is impoverishing these local communities so that they are unable to pay local pastors, conduct benevolence projects, invest in local farming, and, consequently, it prevents the sustainability of local communities.”
“Over 162 churches have been shuttered due to banditry and ransom payments in the State of Kaduna alone in recent years,” the Rev. Joseph Hayab, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria’s Kaduna chapter, stated in a text message to The Epoch Times.
“No longer are these kidnappings only perpetrated by Boko Haram/Islamic State of West Africa terrorists, but increasingly, it is the Fulani militants who are overtaking the kidnapping industry,” Abts says. “Ransoms range from a few thousand U.S. dollars to over hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one state reported that there has been over $5 million paid this year alone.”
Gunmen struck an isolated Catholic seminary in southern Kaduna on the evening of Oct. 11, abducting three faculty members and four seminarians. The armed gang, believed to be Fulani Muslim militia, stormed the St. Albert’s Catholic Institute and Seminary at Fayit, Fadan Kagoma, Jema’a Local Government Area (LGA).
Three of the seminarians were released by their abductors early on Oct. 14, according to a statement that day by Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Uche Okolo, chancellor of the Kafanchan Catholic Diocese. Four others remain in the bush.
A video posted on the St. Albert’s Institute Facebook page showed three exhausted and shaken men welcomed at the seminary chapel by a jubilant congregation of priests. The attack was the second recent attack on a Catholic seminary in southern Kaduna.
In February last year, armed Fulani Muslim militia attacked the Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Buwaya, in Chikun LGA, abducting four students. Even though a ransom was paid, the kidnappers killed Michael Nnadi, 18, who was a freshman.
“With hearts filled with joy, we raise our voices in a symphony of praise as we announce the return of our Three Major Seminarians, who were abducted by armed persons from the Chapel,” according to a statement by Okolo. “The event [abduction] took place on Monday, 11th October, 2021 at about 7:26 pm, in the chapel of the seminary in Fayit, Fadan Kagoma in Jemaa Local Government Area in southern part of Kaduna state.
“As at the time of the attack, 10 formators [trainers] including the Rector of the Seminary and the Institute, 132 seminarians, 6-non seminarians, one female nonacademic staff, and one steward were on ground [safe].
“Six seminarians sustained various degrees of injuries. A dispatch of soldiers of the Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) was on ground to accompany some formators and the injured seminarians to Salem Hospital, Kafanchan. There, they were treated and discharged after being confirmed stable.
“From the narrative of the seminary security agents, the law enforcement personnel, and the headcount conducted after Mass on the 12th of October, 2021, it was confirmed that three theologians [and] four seminarians were abducted. These seminarians belong to the Apostle of Devine’s Charity and Little Sons of the Eucharist Congregation.”
The Rev. Williams Abba Kaura, former head of academics of the institute said: “The attackers are Fulani armed men, as many of the students have confirmed.
“They came with the sole aim of kidnapping for ransom. They waited until there was an evening meeting session at the chapel, then they stormed. They shot bullets all over the place, and everyone was running in different directions for his life.
“Help came very late. Thankfully, no one was killed. Most of the injuries sustained were from the stampede. No gunshot wounds.
“They have contacted the families of the abducted students, because as a policy, our Diocese does not negotiate with kidnappers because we don’t pay ransom, for many reasons.
“They are talking directly with the parents of the hostages, and I hear that they are asking for US$107,000 dollars (60 million Naira).”
Kaduna State Police Command spokesman Mohammed Jalige confirmed to The Epoch Times that there was a kidnapping incident in the Catholic Institute, but that a rescue mission had been dispatched to liberate those abducted and arrest the culprits.
“It is true that such an incident occurred. It is very unfortunate why these criminals are targeting schools,” he said. “I want to assure you that we have dispatched a special rescue team since last night. I am sure we shall get back the victims and apprehend the criminals,” he said.
The abduction is the most recent of more than 10 mass abductions of college students that began in November 2020. As reported by The Epoch Times, 121 students of Bethel Baptist Academy were kidnapped at gunpoint by armed Muslim Fulani militia on July 5, 2021, and an undisclosed ransom was paid before 117 were released in batches. Four of those students remain in captivity.