Acts of violence against religious is “a disease that is spreading,” says Archbishop Kaigama.
By Agnes Aineah, ACI Africa
The Catholic Church in Nigeria is not paying ransom for any priest, religious sister, catechists or any other Church leader who is kidnapped by Boko Haram and other groups that target Christians, a prelate in the West African country has said.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese who spoke to the international charity organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, said priests in the West African country have also clarified that they would not want any amount of money to be paid for their release in the event that they are abducted.
“We, the Bishops of Nigeria, have unanimously agreed in our Episcopal Conference and have made it very clear that we do not pay ransoms. When a Priest is kidnapped, he makes it clear that his Church does not pay ransom,” Archbishop Kaigama has been quoted as saying in the ACN January 28 report.
The archbishop says that paying ransom encourages criminality and also poses danger to those who are kidnapped.
“Paying a ransom means putting everyone for sale and in danger, all the priests, nuns and collaborators of the Church who move continuously between the villages, without enjoying any kind of comfort, but always ready to sacrifice themselves for the love of God and His people, would put them in danger because this encourages criminality and invites the kidnappers to do more harm,” he said.
There have been multiple cases of kidnapping and other acts of violence meted against religious people in Nigeria, a situation that the Nigerian archbishop refers to as “a disease that is spreading without any significant effort being made to stop it.”
A report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) last year indicated that at least 20 clergymen among them Catholic priests and seminarians had been killed in the West African nation of Nigeria since June 2015, while another 50 had been abducted.
In one of the recently reported kidnappings, Bishop Moses Chikwe of Owerri Archdiocese, in December last year kidnapped alongside his driver and released last month after spending about a week with his kidnappers.
In a statement shared with ACN, the Nigerian prelate notes that kidnappers target the Catholic Church which is “distinguished by its visibility, respect and recognition in the country” in a bid to create more impact.
“Criminals, bandits or whatever you call them are aware that when they touch a Catholic priest or nun, it quickly becomes news, and they believe that this forces the government to take it seriously,” he says.
“It’s a strategy of the terrorists,” he further says, adding in reference to abductors, “They attack where the repercussions are strongest, and that is what they achieve by attacking Catholic priests and religious.”
He says that kidnappings have been going on for a long time in Nigeria but that “people thought it would not happen to religious leaders. So, when it does happen, it is big news.”
The archbishop stresses that while it is a very sad fact that the country’s religious leaders are being kidnapped and killed, there are other Nigerians who are suffering the same fate.
“They are what I would call silent victims, and there are many of them,” the 62-year old archbishop says.
He regrets that hundreds and thousands of people are being killed in different parts of the country and that nothing concrete is being done about it.
The archbishop believes that there are several motives behind the abductions, key being economic and religious.
He says that there are economic kidnappings perpetrated by criminals who are only looking for quick money, “who hold people hostage and ask for ransom of millions of naira.”
There are also religious fundamentalists who seek territorial expansion, “to conquer those they consider infidels, and Christians are number one on their list,” the archbishop says, adding that bandits also attack and kill Muslims who do not profess the same worship as them.
According to the archbishop, there are also those who are simply religious fanatics. These, he explains, have forgotten what they want, but they are redoubling their efforts to kill and destroy.
Archbishop Kaigama says there is an urgent need for the Nigerian Government to address the kidnappings by training security agents to act more effectively.
“At this stage one would expect that with all the money being managed by politicians, the government would invest more in buying sophisticated equipment to prosecute criminals,” he says, and adds, “Unfortunately, security agents earn very little and have to deal with criminals who have more sophisticated weapons and end up defeating and killing them.”
He urges the Nigerian government to manage its resources well and to take care of the security officers who he says are in the front line against criminal gangs in the country.
Featured image: Flag of Nigeria (Credit: Labrador Photo/Shutterstock via ACI Africa)