On Sunday night, two days after Christmas, armed men kidnapped Auxilary Bishop Moses Chikwe of the Owerri Diocese in Nigeria. Police are now investigating the incident and searching for any leads to his whereabouts.
In a statement, Victor Obinna, the Archbishop of Owerri, regretfully confirmed that Chikwe had been kidnapped along with his driver, who has not yet been named.
“His Grace, Most Rev. Archbishop Anthony J.V. Obinna, the Archbishop of Owerri painfully informs Christ’s faithful and God’s people at large that Most. Rev. Moses Chikwe, Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri was kidnapped late evening of Sunday 27 December 2020. The said incident took place around Site and Services, New Owerri, Imo State,” said the statement issued by Archdiocesan Chancellor, Msgr. Alphonsus Oha.
Speaking with Vatican News, Archbishop Obinna said that even though kidnappings are a regular occurrence in Nigeria, the targetting of a bishop shows how grave a matter it has become.
“Kidnapping has, of course, been going on in Nigeria, in different parts of Nigeria. That it has happened to my Auxiliary Bishop shows that the security situation in Nigeria is very bad,” he said. “The protection, the security that the people ought to have is not very effective. We have periodically raised the alarm about the state of insecurity in which we find ourselves …..The Church is not far removed from the people. We are not insulated from the suffering of the people. We take it as part of our testimony that we have to bear.”
Chikwe’s abduction follows a string of kidnappings in the state. More from Vatican News:
According to Nigerian media, Bishop Chikwe’s car and episcopal vestments were abandoned by the criminals near the Assumpta Cathedral premises of Owerri.
Catholic news Agenzia Fides reports that the police have activated two special teams, the Quick Intervention Team (QUIT) and the Anti Kidnapping Unit (AKU), to find Bishop Chikwe and arrest his kidnappers.
The kidnapping of the Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri comes just a week after the abduction in the State of another Catholic religious priest, Fr Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, abducted on 15 December by armed men while on his way to his father’s funeral. The priest was later released on 16 December.
In recent years, Nigerian priests and religious women have become targets of kidnappings. Criminals kidnap religious women and priests on the assumption that congregations or dioceses will pay a ransom for the release of one of their own. The abductions of Church personnel in Nigeria has sent a chilling message about personal safety.
In late November, Islamist militants slaughtered 110 farmers, beheading an estimated 30 people in the process. Speaking to his general audience on December 2, Pope Francis called it a “terrorist massacre.”
“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said. “Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name.”
According to a 2020 report by Nigerian human rights organization, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety), more than 12,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, as reported by Catholic News Agency.
“Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom,” reported CNA.