From 2006 to 2023, 53 priests in Nigeria have been kidnapped, 12 attacked and 16 killed. This is the data reported by the Bishops’ Conference in Nigeria on the kidnappings and killings of priests in the country.
The scourge of kidnappings of priests and religious in Nigeria has long been known and is part of a broader phenomenon of kidnappings that target, among others, foreigners, businessmen, politicians, government officials, diplomats and traditional rulers, but also ordinary citizens including students and schoolchildren, who are often victims of mass abductions.
Northern Nigeria is the area where the kidnapping problem has long been linked to the presence of terrorist groups, beginning with Boko Haram, which has since split and subsequently new groups have formed, the most important of which is the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP). However, in recent years the phenomenon has spread to different parts of Nigeria, including the south, where the scourge of kidnapping is intertwined with secessionist claims.
In all cases, it is not easy to distinguish between kidnappings committed by terrorist groups or by criminal groups that only seek financial gain. In reality, terrorists and bandits have a similar modus operandi. Terrorists attack villages by looting property, searching for food and livestock, and kidnapping civilians; common bandits commit similar actions, but do not openly claim them for ideological reasons.
Whether committed by terrorists or bandits, several different forms of kidnapping have been catalogued in Nigeria: planned kidnappings of pre-identified specific individuals; random kidnappings, especially on the streets, taking victims at random (but not excluding a selection among passers-by to take those who can guarantee a higher ransom payment); mass kidnappings (with normally planned raids on towns, places of worship, including churches and mosques, schools, trains and railway stations).
In the case of kidnappings of precisely chosen victims, they have been observed along the habitual route of the subject to be kidnapped, as well as nocturnal assaults on the home, and sentimental traps (Honey Trap) to attract the victim to the place where they are going to be kidnapped.
Most of the kidnapped priests were kidnapped on the road or in attacks on their homes. In the first case, one believes priests are victims of a fortuitous kidnapping, but there are also examples of priests who have been kidnapped in the street, often while going to Mass or returning from a religious service. (Photo: Ayodele Adeniran) – (L.M.)