On Dec. 15, Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, a member of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy, was kidnapped in Imo State en route to his father's funeral in the neighboring Anambra State. He was "unconditionally released" the following day.
Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja, was freed on Dec. 2 after 10 days in captivity.
Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, quoted Fr. Patrick Alumuku, director of communications of Abuja archdiocese, as saying that the bishops' kidnapping was unusual compared to other cases.
He noted that shots had been fired inside the car, but there were no traces of blood.
"What is also strange is the fact that the bishop's car was brought back. In addition, the kidnappers left the sacred vestments which were found inside the car," he told Fides.
He added that "99% of kidnappings for extortion purposes are committed by Fulani pastors [herdsmen], but it is really unusual that they had the courage to carry out a kidnapping in a city like that of Owerri, in southeast Nigeria, with a Christian majority."
He said that the only precedent was the kidnapping of Fr. Dajo in the town of Yangoji, near the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
Catholic bishops in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, have repeatedly called on the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, to do more to protect its citizens.
In a collective statement issued Oct. 1, marking the 60th anniversary of the country's independence, the bishops said: "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."
The U.S. State Department recently named Nigeria as a "country of particular concern," a formal designation reserved for nations with the worst records on religious freedom, including China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
A Nigerian Catholic bishop told members of Congress earlier this month that Christians faced "genocide" in the country's Middle Belt, the area between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south.
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"The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria's Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention," Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a congressional commission.