Various sources have confirmed to ACI Africa the abduction of 53-year-old Nigerian bishop, all indicating that the bishop’s whereabouts remain unknown.
“I spoke with the archbishop yesterday evening and asked him to let me know if any new thing occurs. Nothing yet,” a Catholic bishop in Nigeria told ACI Africa Dec. 29, making reference to Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri archdiocese.
According to The Sun, the kidnapping occurred along Port Harcourt road in Owerri at about 8 p.m. local time.
Bishop Chikwe “was kidnapped alongside his driver in his official car,” The Sun reported, citing eyewitnesses, who added that the bishop’s vehicle “was later returned to Assumpta roundabout, while the occupants were believed to have been taken to an unknown destination.”
An anti-kidnapping police unit has begun investigating the abduction, the newspaper reported.
Bishop Chikwe’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings that have targeted clergy in Nigeria, but previous abductions have involved priests and seminarians, not bishops.
On Dec. 15, Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, a member of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy (SMMM) was kidnapped in Imo State en route to his father’s funeral in the neighboring Anambra State, in southeastern Nigeria. He was “unconditionally released” the following day.
Last month, Fr. Matthew Dajo, a Nigerian priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped and released after ten days in captivity. Multiple sources in Nigeria told ACI Africa about negotiations for ransom following Fr. Dajo’s Nov. 22 kidnapping, some sources indicating abductors’ demand for hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department listed Nigeria among the worst countries for religious freedom, describing the West African nation as a “country of particular concern (CPC).” This is a formal designation reserved for nations where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place, the other countries being China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
The action by the U.S. State Department was lauded by the leadership of Knights of Columbus, with the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson saying December 16, "Nigeria's Christians have suffered grievously at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups."
The murders and kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria now “verge on genocide,” Anderson added December 16.
“The Christians of Nigeria, both Catholic and Protestant, deserve attention, recognition and relief now,” Anderson further said, adding, “Nigeria's Christians should be able to live in peace and practice their faith without fear."
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According to a special report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) in March, “no fewer than 20 clergymen including at least eight Catholic Priests/Seminarians were hacked to death in the past 57 months and not less than 50 abducted or kidnapped.”
Catholic bishops in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation, have repeatedly called on Muhammadu Buhari-led government to put in place strict measures to protect her citizens.
“It is just unimaginable and inconceivable to celebrate Nigeria at 60 when our roads are not safe; our people are kidnapped, and they sell their properties to pay ransom to criminals,” members of CBCN said in a collective statement on October 1.
A version of this story was first reported by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner.