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Nigerian Priests Betrayed by Congregants Remain in Captivity in Plateau State

Anti-Christian Pogroms Still Chasing Farmers from Their Plots in Central Plateau

By Masara Kim

The abducted priests: Reverend Fathers Kenneth Kanwa, and Jude Nwachukwu. Photo credit: X/@FrUgochukwu.
The abducted priests: Reverend Fathers Kenneth Kanwa, and Jude Nwachukwu. Photo credit: X/@FrUgochukwu.

Despite social media rumors their abductors were arrested, Reverend Fathers Kenneth Kanwa, and Jude Nwachukwu have remained in captivity one week later.

The Claretian Missionaries were abducted on February 1st by terrorists, according to Rev. Father  Ugochukwu Ugwoke, a Catholic priest famed for his sermons on X.

The two priests were kidnapped from their rectory in St. Vincent De Paul Parish, Fier, which is under the Pankshin Diocese in Plateau State, Rev. Fr. Ugwoke posted on X, calling for prayers.

One week after the abduction, the priests have yet to regain freedom, TruthNigeria can confirm. This is in spite of widespread social media reports the suspects involved in the attack have been arrested. Police and army authorities are not responding to queries from TruthNigeria.

Bishop Michael Gokum, the Bishop of Pankshin Catholic Diocese told TruthNigeria negotiations were still ongoing for their release.

“For now, what we know is that they have not been released,” said Bishop Gokum to TruthNigeria.

“It is an ongoing case, and I don’t have so much information to share,” said Bishop Gokum by telephone. “If it pleases God and they are released, we will give you details,” he said.

The kidnappers initially demanded a ransom of N100million ($100,000) for the release of the victims, said Rev. Fr. Andrew Dewan, the spokesman for the Pankshin Diocese. As of February 5, they had come down to N15million ($15000), wrote Rev. Fr. Dewan to TruthNigeria in a text message.

Residents of the region are chiefly peasant farmers who have endured multiple terror threats preventing planting and harvesting, a scourge on farmers across the Middle Belt region, sometimes called “The Christian Belt.”

In the latest instances, more than 40 people were killed between January 22 and 24 killed in religious clashes sparked by months of Christian massacres near Pankshin. More than 295 Christians were killed in terror raids starting on December 23 in the adjoining counties of Mangu, Bokkos and Barkin Ladi.

As of February 7, attacks were still ongoing in villages in Bokkos according to Fr. Dewan who is in charge of a Parish in Bokkos. 

“We are all very concerned about the kidnapping situation, but our situation in Bokkos is equally serious as the situation has not changed with regards to killings,” he wrote.

Many internally displaced residents are currently sheltering in makeshift camps and with relatives in Pankshin and the surrounding villages.

The kidnap of the priests in Pankshin has sparked fears of an escalation of the violence to the hilly area. Local blogs and social media users reported on February 4 that three suspects were arrested in connection to the abduction.

A spokesman for the Nigerian Police in Plateau State, Deputy Superintendent of Police Alfred Alabo and that of the Army, Captain James Oya, have yet to respond to text messages from TruthNigeria on the reports.

The rumors of the arrest of suspects first appeared on the X handle of a self-acclaimed Pastor, Okezie J. Atañi, who identifies as an ardent supporter of former Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

During his tenure between 2015-2023, Buhari was accused of supervising Christian persecution including village-pillaging and massacres by members of his Fulani ethnicity. The Fulani once rated the third deadliest terrorist group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index has been accused of slaughtering more than 60,000 Nigerian Christians in the last two decades.

In his post, Mr. Atani claimed the suspects were members of the same Parish headed by the two Priests.

“One of the four suspected kidnappers of  the two Catholic Priests of the Pankshin Diocese serving at the St Vincent De Paul Parish Plateau state was arrested,” wrote Atani in a post on X on February 4. “The gang was led by the Financial Secretary of the Parish,” he wrote. 

The post was shared by another Buhari supporter identified on X as “General Buhari” who added, “No outsiders can kidnap you without any insiders giving out your information.”

Bishop Gokum has denied knowledge of the arrests.

“There is so much information on the social media,” said the Bishop. “I also heard that suspects have been arrested but I am not aware of anything like that, but we are still praying for their safe release,” he said.

Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter in Jos and the senior editor of TruthNigeria. 

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