"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." Martin Luther King, Jr.
June 22, 2016 was a Black-Wednesday for the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo and the Nigerian Church. Barely hours after the sad news of the discovered remains of the abducted Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo, Very Rev. Fr. John Adeyi sent cold shivers to a nation at crossroads, another priest, Rev. Fr. Julius Gospel Inalegwu was abducted on June 23, 2016 at his parish rectory, Jitan Dutse, Tudun Wada Local Government Area of Kano State by unknown gunmen at 1:30am.
While we pray for the immediate release of Fr. Gospel, our thoughts go with the bishop, priests, religious and laity of Otukpo Diocese particularly family members and parishioners of the late Fr. Adeyi. Our litany of prayers went up in unison for God to deliver this innocent and hardworking priest from the hands of his abductors yet the unknown kidnappers had their way – God knows best.
The road to his untimely death began when the humble and serene Parish Priest of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, Okpoka, Okpokwu Local Government Area, Benue State, was kidnapped on Sunday, 24 April, 2016 along Odoba, Otukpa-Okwungaga road on his way to Otukpa while returning from an outstation of the Parish where he had gone to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
According to sources, the priest was said to have been invited by his home-parish-priest to settle a dispute in one of the outstations when the dastardly act occurred. The abductors waylaid him and took him out of his vehicle at gun-point leaving the driver and his car.
A family source disclosed that the abductors called about an hour after the abduction demanding the sum of 25 million naira. About 30 minutes later, they called again and reduced the amount to 10 million naira. At the end, they were given 2 million naira by the priest’s family. Since then, they ceased communication with anyone.
After over two months of incarceration, his decomposing body was found behind the Otukpa, Ogbadibo Local Government Area Secretariat. How could they be so heartless? After taking money only to maim a priest and deposit his lifeless-decomposing in a most cruel manner? One wonders why the abduction and deposition of his body were not known or noticed in a community that is supposed to be vigilant 24/7 for suspected marauding Fulani attackers.
It is unthinkable that anyone can enter Idomaland, kidnap a priest, a son of the soil and go scot-free without useful information about the identity or whereabouts of the kidnappers – an indication of deficit in our collective humanity as well as security architecture.
Well, the rest of the story is a matter of conjecture. However, spirited efforts were made by his family, the Benue State Government and the Church to save the life of this priest. Earlier, Governor Samuel Ortom on behalf of the government and people of Benue State had placed a ransom of 5 million naira for anyone with useful information on the whereabouts of the priest. But the question that comes to mind is, were the the police and other security agencies proactive in nipping the situation in the bud? I cannot vouch for them. Their approach is often curative rather than preventive – a sort of “crying after burial” as our people say.
On his part, the Catholic Bishop of Otukpo Diocese, Most Rev. Michael Apochi had made a passionate appeal for the immediate release of his Vicar General in a homily he delivered at the mass organised for the release of the kidnapped priest on Thursday 12 May, 2016.
Also, the bishops, priests, religious and laity of the former diocese of Makurdi which comprises of Otukpo, Makurdi, Lafia, Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses had gathered at St. Francis Otukpo on May 11, 2016 to appeal to God for the release of the Vicar General.
It was there that the Catholic Bishop of Gboko Diocese and Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. William Avenya “reiterated the position of the Catholic Bishops not to pay any ransom to crooks who want to be rewarded for doing evil.”
Besides, if the Church pays ransom for one priest, many more priests will become victims of abduction. We must be worried about the domino argument – multiplier effect. Has Christ not paid our ransom on Calvary? The idea of paying money to have victims released makes nonsense of the theology of victimhood which the priest by the virtue of his life and ministry personifies.
The life, ministry, abduction and eventual gruesome murder of this servant of God remains a gospel – it tells the story of witnessing. What happened to Fr. Adeyi is a reflection of the title of the blockbuster book of late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “The Priest is not his own.” His abductors knew him as a priest, waylaid him while serving his master diligently and kidnapped him while in his clerical robes.
The behind the scene details of what transpired between him and the assailants is bleak to us yet one thing is clear – The sad episode is a witness of victimhood. Fr. Adeyi is one victim out of many whose stories are unknown. Perhaps his death would save other victims.
Certainly, he is a victim of a failed state where poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment and youth radicalisation have made kidnapping a commercial venture. Commercial-kidnapping in Nigeria is in vogue because government has abdicated its responsibility of providing jobs and infrastructure for the people to religious bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations. As a result, aggrieved youth are taking the law into their hands.
It is imperative to note that it is not the responsibility of the Church or religious bodies to provide social amenities for the people. The primary role of the Church is preaching the word and administering the sacraments. Any other thing which the Church does like the provision of social services under the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), in the light of Catholic Social Teaching, is secondary. I don’t see why the Church becomes a victim of what is supposed to be the sole responsibility of government.
Sadly, the kidnapping of these priests is one in a series of previous abductions in the country. It would be recalled that in 2009, Rev. Fr. Pius Kii was seized by unidentified gunmen from the steps of his Church in Port Harcourt on Sunday.
On May 31, 2011, the scary headline "Catholic Priest Kidnapped In Akwa Ibom As Kidnappers Demand N50 Million Ransom" appeared on Sahara reporters. The news portal disclosed that “the Catholic Priest of Urua Edere-Obo Parish in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State was the victim of the kidnap gang." Rev. Father Akaniyene Ntebono was allegedly kidnapped at about 8:00 pm on his way to the school compound where he serves as an acting principal.
It was also reported on 27 April 2012 that Rev. Father Nwika Gbinu was abducted from his house by identified gunmen in Onne, Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
In April 2015, it was in the news that the Enugu State police officials arrested 7 suspected kidnappers accused of defiling and killing a Reverend Sister after kidnapping over 10 Reverend Fathers, bus passengers, pastors and politicians.
On 4 May, 2015 Fr. Innocent Umoru was kidnapped in Idah Diocese, Kogi State, while his abductors demanded a at least 20,000 U.S. dollars ransom from his diocese for his release. Although no ransom was paid, the priest was later released after two days.
A month later precisely on 1 June, Fr. Goodwill Onyeka and his brother were murdered in cold blood in a robbery attack along Owo-Oba-Akoko road, in state of Ondo.
By 8 June, the parish priest of St. Benedict of Ido-Elkit, in south-west Nigeria, Fr. Emmanuel Akingbade was also abducted but later set free on 16 June.
That was not all - On 24 June, 2015, The Nation Newspaper reported the first case of the kidnap of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Akingbade in Ekiti State. Respite came when the cleric escaped from his captors.
On 15 August of the same year, a Claretian priest of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a lecturer, Fr. Dennis Osuagwu was brutally murdered in cold blood in Nekede.
A Holy Ghost priest, Rev. Father Gabriel Oyaka, cssp was accosted and abducted by men of the underworld along Okene-Auchi road while travelling from Abuja to Onitsha, Anambra State on September 7, 2015. Despite frantic efforts by the Nigeria Police, the priest is still at large. Whether he is dead or alive, only God and the abductors know.
By Friday December 18, 2015 two priests of Issele-Uku diocese, Rev. Frs. Franklyn Odiaka and Moses Nwaonwochei were kidnapped by gunmen at Obior in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State on their way from a special prayer service. They were however, released.
In February this year, Fr. Bernard Jenfa Adedayo, a Vincentian priest who was working at the Catholic Church of Assumption, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State disclosed to Vanguard Newspaper that he was a guest to a renowned cult group which kidnapped him and took him to a forest which was home to reptiles and carnivorous animals. He was lucky he escaped.
On April 3, 2016, Vanguard also reported that there was tension in “Owa community in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State where a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Aniako Celestine, priest in charge of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Ukana, Udi Local Government Area was kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen Saturday evening on his way from his home town, Ezeagu.” It is unknown whether the priest has regained freedom or not.
Also, two Sisters of St Louis, Srs. Perpetua Apo and Bukola Familade and their driver, Mr. Zwugwa Zibai, were also abducted at Kajola, along Ore-Lagos Road on Thursday, 12 May, 2016 when they were travelling from Kaduna to Ijebu-Itele, Ogun State for a programme. Thank God they were later released.
In a press statement demanding the release of Fr. John, Sisters Perpetua and Bukola and their driver, Mr. Zwugwa dated May 19, 2016, the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti, Most Rev. Felix Ajakaye stated that: “As Nigerians, we need to make our beloved country, Nigeria, habitable for all, where we shall uphold true love, justice, peace, harmony and development. More than ever before, we are to promote and encourage hard work. Nigeria belongs to all and we must manage our resources properly for the benefit of all.”
He further stressed that: “We must stop chasing the shadows. Really, whenever somebody is abducted, it is sickening to hear State Governors prepared to give Millions of Naira to anybody or group with any information on the whereabouts of the abducted. Let such Governors look inward and do the needful.”
The Bishop also said, “I humbly appeal to all sincere and purposeful Nigerians, within and outside government, and genuine friends of Nigeria to fashion out practical lasting solutions to this spate of abductions.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Avenya had used the Mass for the release of Fr. Adeyi to “challenge young people to use their talents wisely" while adding that "those who choose to do evil with their God-given talents will be visited by God's anger.”
It is human to say, if the Benue State Commissioner of Police, Otukpo Area Commander, Ogbadibo DPO, Okpokwu DPO, Local Vigilante Groups and the natives were up and doing, our priest and brother would not have died. We will be unkind to him, his diocese, family and friends if we peg what happened to him around destiny.
As such, if his death means anything to us, the government and security agencies must fish out the perpetrators of this evil and also provide the enabling environment for Nigerians to enjoy security of lives and property.
Is not pathetic that public servants who are responsible for the ugly state of affairs in the country, including insecurity, are driven in government-owned vehicles with heavily guarded escorts while the masses are left helpless?
We call on all well-meaning Nigerians to appeal to the abductors of all the people still in captivity especially Fr. Julius Gospel to release them unconditionally. Perhaps we need to be reminded that priests live with the people and they are for the people. No one identifies with the people like a priest because from the cradle to the grave, he is there for the people. The gravity of the biblical injunction “Do not lay your hands against the Lord’s anointed” has not been reduced simply because we are in the 21st century.
As fearful as these abductions are, the Church must not cower. Church leaders and clerics everywhere must resolve to maintain the Church’s role as a national voice of conscience while protecting the vulnerable. Struggling to be the voice of the voiceless amidst threats to some Church-personnel as well as national socio-political malaise remains an uphill task yet surmountable.
Advocacy, press releases, media campaigns by both ecclesiastical and secular media firms would help curb the menace. Silence is compromise. It is worrisome that when Church personnel are kidnapped in Nigeria, you first get the news from foreign ecclesiastical-media platforms firms like agenzia fides, Vatican radio or Zenith.org. These agencies have more detailed report of cases of Nigerian priests who are kidnapped than our own local church-media.
Directors of Social Communication of every Archdiocese, Diocese and Vicariate as well as the Directorate of Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) should be more proactive in reporting these cases of abductions as that may save the life of victims.
This is indeed a mourning period for the bishop, priests and laity of Otukpo Diocese, the Church in Nigeria, the Chairman of Ogbadibo LGA, Hon. Paul Abba and his Okpokwu LGA counterpart, Prince George Adah. The only way we can mourn this priest properly is to ensure that the libation of his life becomes a chalice that will save others from the claws of kidnappers.
Born in July 1965 and ordained in 1990, the vibrant and outspoken Otukpa-born priest recently celebrated his Silver Jubilee of Ordination to Catholic Priesthood.
Although I not know much about him, the last time I saw the late Fr. Adeyi was when he chanted the chorus “I know there is another fellowship in heaven” after the final commendation during the funeral of my late Bishop and his classmate, Most Rev. Malachy Goltok on March 26, 2015 at St. John the Evangelist's Cathedral, Bauchi. May they now share in that fellowship which they truly believed and Fr. Adeyi fondly sang.
May God be merciful to this priest who paid the supreme price by dying for a nation in crisis – We pray that Rev. Frs. Gabriel Oyaka, cssp, Julius Gospel and all others in captivity are released soon. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Pray for us!