Reports available in the public space indicate that no fewer than 39 Catholic priests in Nigeria were killed by gunmen in 2022 alone while 30 others were abducted by criminals, some for ransom, others as part of an alleged plot to hurt the Christian faith with the aim of attenuating its spread and influence.
A research organization, SB Morgen Intelligence, in a recent report, claimed that North central zone of the country was the worst hit with 12 killings while North west recorded nine deaths as a result of the activities of these criminals. A look at the pervasive nature of these dastardly attacks and their effects on other zones shows that South east and South south recorded five deaths each just as North east and North west had four deaths apiece.
The research organization went further to allege that 28 out of these attacks were by kidnappers, three by herdsmen, two by Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), two each by Boko haram and two others by bandits and mob violence.
It went further to describe 2022 as an awful year for the clergy. According to the organization, none in the Christian group suffered more than Catholic priests and this for obvious reasons. The Catholic church covers more ground in the spread of the faith and are to be found in those remote areas where the criminals hold sway. The thinking among these enemies of Christianity is that to bring down the faith in Nigeria, take down the Catholic church or scare them off certain geo-political zones.
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More than that, Catholic priests are not afraid to condemn activities that are a contradiction to the teachings of Christianity. Their words are a scourge on the souls of these agents of Satan, a constant reminder of the inhumaneness that is their actions against decent society. IPOB’s involvement in this reprehensible act is a case in point.
Of course, we note that the priests and the Church as an institution, will not pander to the pecuniary imperative of what has become an unholy abduction enterprise. For the priests themselves, as the scripture teaches, to die is to gain. And for the institution, it is meaningless trying to appease criminal elements already condemned to perdition.
Regardless and in the opinion of this newspaper, the outcome of this research, brings to the fore the urgency of intensifying security efforts in the country especially around these servants of God so as to end the spates of preventable atrocities.
The disturbing aspect of this killing spree targeted at Catholic priests who, to all intents and purposes, seem to have been marked as an endangered specie, is that it attracts mere platitudinal response from the authorities each time they occur pending when the next victim is recorded.
As yet, no arrests have been made in connection with these killings let alone prosecution. Even more disconcerting is that no attempt is on ground to beef up security around these gentlemen who sacrificed worldly affairs for the sake of saving the souls of these same bad elements who are condemned to a life of evil.
In our view, these priests are to be found in secluded areas where their activities, not just as preachers but also as teachers and healers, raising and nurturing young souls, present a semblance of societal decency to communities abandoned to their fate by the inanities of poor governance structure and the seemingly irredeemable pretentions to power by those otherwise elected to lead and govern.
For their role in this regard, the authorities owe themselves a duty to provide an enabling security environment for them to practice their calling as partners in national development.
In the prevailing circumstance, we are persuaded to point out that these priests are not suicidal by nature. All given, they will prefer to stay alive and continue with their vocation. It is important to raise this issue because the body language of government and its security agencies suggest that the attack on Catholic priests is akin to occupational hazard. Certainly, it is not.
However, the bandits, abductors and their sponsors are wasting their time if they imagine that their criminality will bulge these ordained men of God chosen by Him for a purpose. Like their European trailblazers who defied uncharted seas and unimaginable hostility in completely strange environments to do good to a majority, the priests are undaunted by the fate of their fellow labourers in the Lord’s vineyard. As part of the Church militant, they are aware of the risks involved. All they ask for is the basic security cover that is available to everyone else in a society like the one we live in with a claim to civility. That, obviously, ought not to be too much to ask for.