June 20, 2024

Two Catholic priests abducted in Nigeria as religious violence continues in world’s most dangerous country for Christians

St Francis Catholic Church following an explosion in Owo Nigeria, Sunday, June 5, 2022. AP Photo/Rahaman A Yusuf
St Francis Catholic Church following an explosion in Owo Nigeria, Sunday, June 5, 2022. AP Photo/Rahaman A Yusuf

Two Catholic priests have been abducted in northern Nigeria, according to the local diocese. The kidnappings are the most recent examples of religiously motivated violence in Nigeria, one the most dangerous nations in the world for Christians.

Fathers John Mark Cheitnum and Donatus Cleopas were reportedly abducted from the Christ the King Catholic Church in the town of Lere, southern Kaduna.

In recent months, there have been multiple notable instances of religious violence being committed in Nigeria. On Pentecost Sunday in June, gunmen opened fire on a southwest Nigerian Catholic church, killing at least 50 churchgoers.

Additionally, kidnappers abducted another priest from his rectory in Kaduna, northwestern Nigeria earlier this month.

The most recent abductions of the two Catholic priests took place in Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna. The majority of attacks against Christians have taken place in the northern part of the country, which has a strong Muslim-majority. However, the security situation in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate and innocent civilians fear for their lives throughout the entire country.

Religiously motivated attacks against Christians have become commonplace since the rise of extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP). Nigeria has been torn apart by ongoing conflict between these armed militant groups and Nigerian security forces.

According to Vision of Humanity, Nigeria is sixth most impacted by terorism out of every country in the world. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reports that Nigerian armed bandit groups killed more than 2,600 civilians in 2021, which is a 250 percent increase from the prior year.

While the entirety of Nigeria has felt the devastating impact of its unstable security situation, Christians are most heavily directly victimized by the violence. According to Open Doors, nearly 80 percent of the 5,898 Christians killed around the world in 2021 were in Nigeria. On average, nearly 13 Christians were killed every day in Nigeria last year.

While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has not commented on the recent abductions of priests, his administration strongly condemned the June massacre at a church in Owo, saying “it is clear that there is a design by wicked people to put the country under religious stress.”

Religious tension is incredibly high in Nigeria and has led to widespread violence. Pew Research has reported that 49.3 percent of the nation is Christian and 48.8 percent is Muslim.

“The security situation across Nigeria remains dire as armed groups kill, pilfer, and kidnap people for ransom across Nigeria. Decades-long communal tensions continued to erupt into violent attacks, killings, and pillaging of villages and towns in the Northwest and North Central,” reports Human Rights Watch.

For decades, the United States and its partners have spent billions of dollars to aid with military operations aimed to strengthen the fight against instability throughout the Sahel. However, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez explained Tuesday that there is still much to be done, saying, “Despite all of our efforts, we have little positive to show… clearly the situation has only deteriorated.”

In recent years, the Sahel has cemented itself as a global hotbed for terrorism. The Institute for Economics and Peace reports that Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48 percent of the world’s terrorism-related deaths in 2021.

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