Both the insurgents and the bandit gangs use kidnapping for ransom as a continuous revenue stream.
“We prayed the rosary silently during the march,” Ojapah recalled. He also recited words from a psalm he knew from memory:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.”
“The words calmed us down, making us feel like we were covered from danger,” he said.
Priests and clergy of other faiths increasingly have become targets of kidnapping gangs, which has made Nigeria the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, according to Open Doors UK. As many as 16 Christians are killed for their faith every day in Nigeria, the humanitarian nongovernmental organization has reported.
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So far this year in Nigeria, at least four priests have been murdered and 22 kidnapped for ransom. In 2021, approximately 6,000 Christians were murdered, chiefly in the 12 states of the Middle Belt.
During their stay in the bandit encampment in Birnin Gwari, the group Ojapah was part of received little to eat except rice, beans, palm oil, and water. The five captives were joined by other victims, including a Protestant pastor and three members of his congregation, Ojapah said.
The group of abductees sat for hours in silence and listened to the sounds of the forest, which is home to monkeys, warthogs, wolves, a profusion of birds, scorpions, and deadly vipers. When clouds opened and poured down rain, the bandits moved to the shade of trees with dense foliage, but the abductees were chained to their hut, which leaked cold rain on them for hours, Ojapah said.
During their trek through the forest, they had to drink from any available creek or puddle. At night they shivered through temperatures in the low 60s. “We all got colds,” he said.
“The bandit leader told me their group was Ansaru, the name of a jihadist group that had split away from Boko Haram in 2012,” Ojapah said.
After contacting a priest in Sokoto using Ojapah’s cell phone, the bandits settled down for a long wait until ransom could be obtained. The bandits passed their days smoking marijuana and taking drugs, Ojapah said, whereas the priests recited Scripture and prayed in soft voices.