Updated: June 05, 2021 03:23 AM GMT
Father Joe Keke, 75, was released after spending two weeks in captivity. (Photo: The Catholic Star Newspaper/Facebook)
A Nigerian priest has been released after being kidnapped in an attack that killed a priest in the Diocese of Sokoto.
Father Joe Keke, who was abducted along with slain Father Alphonsus Bello from St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Katsina state on May 20, has been released by armed bandits, the diocese said on June 3.
The body of 33-year-old parish priest Father Bello, a Fidei Donum priest, was found a day after the attack and kidnapping.
Father Keke, the 75-year-old former parish priest, is undergoing medical treatment, said Father Chris Omotosho, diocesan communications director.
Father Mike Umoh, director of national social communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, said Father Bello’s body was found on farmland near a church-run training school. He was buried on June 1.
“We are here to pray for the repentance and conversion of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,” Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna said in his homily during the burial Mass.
We pastoral agents are subjected to all kinds of hardship but never distressed
The murderers of Father Bello and many others like them “do not know what they do,” he noted.
The archbishop chided Nigeria’s security forces of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and asked them to “wake up from their slumbers” to manhunt fanatics, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists “who are criminals in every sense of the word.”
They kill innocent Nigerians “regardless of religion, ethnicity and political leanings,” the prelate observed.
To secure Father Keke’s release, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto led negotiations with the kidnappers.
“We have established contact with the kidnappers and we are talking,” Bishop Kukah informed Aid to the Church in Need on May 26.
Bishop Kukah told the pontifical charity foundation that though the abductors initially asked for a ransom of for some US$242,000, they later climbed down to some $121,000.
Archbishop Ndagoso said priests in the West African country are living “in challenging and even frightening times.”
“We pastoral agents are subjected to all kinds of hardship but never distressed,” he said.
In a statement on May 11, bishops in Nigeria’s ecclesiastical provinces of Onitsha and Owerri had sought urgent action to address the increasing insecurity in Africa’s most populous country.
“This nation is in great danger unless we bring a new spirit, a new approach,” they said.
Islamist insurgents have killed more than 12,000 Christians since June 2015
The kidnapping of clergy and other church members is an ongoing vexed issue in Nigeria.
On May 17, a Catholic priest serving in Kaduna Archdiocese was kidnapped along with 10 others. The gunmen later killed eight victims.
Boko Haram, an Islamic terror outfit, and predominantly Muslim Fulani militia who clash with Christian farmers over grazing land are reported to be behind the attacks on Christians.
Islamist insurgents have killed more than 12,000 Christians since June 2015, according to Intersociety, a Nigerian human rights organization.