Priest kidnapped in Kaduna state, Nigeria

The Rev. Gabriel Ukeh, kidnapped in Kaduna state, Nigeria, on June 9, 2024.
The Rev. Gabriel Ukeh, kidnapped in Kaduna state, Nigeria, on June 9, 2024. | (Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, Kaduna state)

Armed “Muslim bandits” abducted a Roman Catholic Church priest in the early hours of Sunday (June 9), in Kaduna state, Nigeria, sources said.

The Rev. Gabriel Ukeh was sleeping at his home on the premises of St. Thomas Catholic Parish, Zaman Dabo village, in Zango Kataf County when he was abducted, said area resident Freeman Dabo.

“We were together with Rev. Gabriel Ukeh yesterday, Saturday, 8 June, in Kafanchan town,” Dabo told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News in a text message. “Sadly, early this morning, Sunday, 9 June, he was kidnapped by armed Muslim bandits.”

The priest had led a children’s event in Kafanchan on Saturday, he said.

“After this tiring Saturday event with the children and late hour preparations for the Sunday Masses which he would have celebrated today, Sunday, 9 June, a group of Muslim bandits took him away at gunpoint, dragging him through a journey in pains, uncertainties and horror to an unknown place,” Dabo said. “May the prayers of the innocent children that he spent the whole day caring for yesterday at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Kafanchan bring him back in good health of mind and body, Amen.”

The Rev. Emmanuel Kazah Faweh, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, said in a press statement that Ukeh was abducted by bandits from the parish premises.

“While we solicit for fervent prayers for his urgent and safe release, we equally condemn this act of incessant kidnappings for ransom of innocent and defenseless Christians of our communities,” Faweh said. “We will use every legitimate means to ensure that Fr. Ukeh comes back to us safe and sound.”

Faweh reportedly urged the government to increase security as the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha approaches on June 15-19. He also urged restrains among Nigerian Christians.

“While we are working with the security forces for the speedy release of Father Ukeh, we would like to urge everyone not to take justice into their own hands,” Faweh said.

Mansir Hassan, spokesman for the Kaduna State Command, told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News officers had received a report from the church and were “working towards the rescue of the priest.”

Nigeria remained the deadliest place in the world to follow Christ, with 4,118 people killed for their faith from Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2023, according to Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List (WWL) report. More kidnappings of Christians than in any other country also took place in Nigeria, with 3,300.

Nigeria was also the third highest country in number of attacks on churches and other Christian buildings such as hospitals, schools, and cemeteries, with 750, according to the report.

In the 2024 WWL of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria was ranked No. 6, as it was in the previous year.

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a 2020 report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.