A Catholic diocese in Nigeria appealed on Thursday for prayers for the “speedy release” of a priest abducted on March 15.
Fr. Benedict Okutegbe, administrator of Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Diocese of Warri, said March 18, “Please, join us in prayer for the speedy release of Fr. Harrison Egwuenu who was kidnapped at about 8 p.m. on Monday at a bad spot in Oria-Abraka, Ethiope East Local Government Area, and for peace and security in Nigeria.”
Okutegbe told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, that the priest was returning to St. George’s College, Obinomba, Delta State, where he was recently appointed principal when he was “kidnapped by gunmen who took him to an unknown destination.”
“The authorities have been notified and a manhunt has been launched for the abductors,” he said.
Okutegbe, who previously served as Warri diocese’s director of social communications, described Egwuenu as a “dedicated and hardworking priest.”
The West African nation has faced growing insecurity since 2009 when the Islamist group Boko Haram launched an insurgency. The group has orchestrated terrorist attacks on various targets, including religious and political groups as well as civilians.
Insecurity has also increased due to the actions of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen who have clashed frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.
Last December, Bishop Moses Chikwe, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Owerri, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen and later released unharmed.
In November, unknown armed men kidnapped Fr. Matthew Dajo during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish is located. They freed him 10 days later.
Okutegbe told ACI Africa, “This has nothing to do with religion. One can say it is simply a reflection of the collapse of the security apparatus of the state and country. No one seems to be safe anymore.”
Nigeria’s Catholic bishops have repeatedly called on the government to do more to protect its 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 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria said in an October 1 statement, marking the country’s independence anniversary.
They added, “Nigerians are experiencing an invasion of their farmlands by armed Fulani herdsmen, a group well organized and already designated as the fourth deadliest terrorists’ group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index.”