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“Come to our rescue”, Nigerian Priest to International Community after Month of Captivity

Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

A Nigerian Catholic Priest who spent at least a month in captivity following his abduction earlier this year has called on the international community to come to the aid of the people of God in Nigeria’s Kaduna State amid heightened insecurity.

In a September 2021 report, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) ranked Kaduna as one of the most insecure States in Nigeria.

In a report shared with ACI Africa Monday, November 29, Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh who recounts his ordeal in the hands of Fulani herdsmen laments that attacks from the predominantly Muslim Fulani herders “have become very common in Kaduna state.”

“I am therefore calling on the international community to please come to our rescue,” Fr. Awesuh told the Pontifical charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

In their September 2021 report, Intersociety members say that at least 608 people in Kaduna State have lost their lives in what has been described as “Christian butcheries” perpetrated by Fulani bandits in the first nine months of the year. 

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The report also indicates that 4,400 Christians in Nigeria have been killed while at least 20 Priests and Pastors have been murdered or abducted in the West African nation.

In the ACN report shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Awesuh who spent more than a month with Fulani kidnappers narrates his ordeal following his abduction from his Parish residence in the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna.

The Nigerian Priest’s tribulations started on the night of May 16 “at exactly 11pm” when a number of “well-armed” Fulani herdsmen stormed his residence.

“I heard gunshots and I quickly turned off the television set. Turning off the light, I saw shadows and heard footsteps. I carefully opened the curtain to see what was going on. I saw five bulky Fulani herdsmen who were well-armed. I recognized them by their dress and by the way they spoke. I stood there confused, not knowing what to do, as I felt completely lost,” says the Catholic Priest ministering at St. John Paul II Parish of Kaduna Archdiocese.

He adds that his body became stiff and started sweating profusely after the attackers knocked at his door.

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“They kept on knocking, but, afraid, I refused to open the door. They broke down the door and forced themselves inside. One of the men pushed me to the floor, tied me up and flogged me mercilessly, saying ka ki ka bude mana kofa da tsori (you are getting tortured because you kept us standing outside for so long and refused to open the door when we were knocking),” Fr. Awesuh has been quoted as saying, adding that he was stripped “naked down to my shorts.”

Abducted alongside ten other parishioners, the Priest says that for the next three days, they trekked in the bushes feeding only on mangos.

“We were hungry, tired, and weak and our legs hurt a lot and our feet were swollen as we trekked barefoot. There was rain on the second and third days, but we had to keep moving. On the third day, we arrived at a camp deep in the forest,” Fr. Awesuh says.

He adds that they remained in the forest where they were fed with rice, oil and salt for one month and five days. The food was prepared by the women who had been kidnapped, he adds.

“We were not allowed to bathe throughout our captivity. We had to urinate and defecate in the hut. We were smelling like dead bodies and the hut smelled like a mortuary. We were tortured and threatened with death if a ransom of 50 million naira (US$121,490) was not paid,” Fr. Awesuh says adding that their families were contacted to pay the ransom in exchange for their lives.

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He says, “Our families pleaded and negotiated with our kidnappers, until they finally accepted the sum of 7 million naira (US$17,000).”

The 37-year-old Nigerian Priest recalls three parishioners tracking down the abductees in view of rescuing them. 

The three parishioners, however, lost their lives in the process, Fr. Awesuh further calls, saying, “Oh, what sorrow to have watched three of my parishioners shot dead in cold blood, right before my eyes—and I couldn’t do anything. It was very painful! At this point, I felt helpless, hopeless, useless, and restless! I urgently craved for death to take me, as the scene of the killings kept playing in my head.”

He adds that he could not pray because of the shock he was in. “Whenever I opened my mouth to pray, words failed me. All I could say was ‘Lord have mercy,’” Fr. Awesuh recalls.

He thanks God for his freedom saying, “To the greater glory of God’s name, we were released and came out alive. I narrowly escaped death. I know of so many Priests kidnapped before and after me who were killed even after a ransom was paid.”

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Fr. Bako, whose current location remains undisclosed for security reasons, says he has been undergoing. 

“The love I received and experienced from my family, friends and especially the Church, was enormous.,” the member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Kaduna Archdiocese who has been undergoing counselling says in the ACN report shared with ACI Africa November 29.