Inside the Growing Spirituality of Martyrdom in Nigerian Seminaries and Monasteries

Seminarians at Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Nigeria's Kaduna state where four students were kidnapped and one, Michael Nnadi killed. Credit: Good Shepherd Major Seminary Kaduna/ Facebook

Last year, 2023, was a difficult year for Br. Peter Olarewaju, a postulant at the Benedictine Monastery in Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese, who was kidnapped alongside two others at the monastery. Br. Olarewaju underwent different kinds of torture. He watched as his companion, Br. Godwin Eze, was murdered.

After he was released, Br. Olarewaju said his kidnapping was a blessing as it had strengthened his faith. He even said that he is now prepared to die for his faith.

“I am prepared to die a martyr in this dangerous country. I am ready any moment to die for Jesus. I feel this very strongly,” Br. Olarewaju said in an interview with ACI Africa on 26 November 2023, days after he was set free by suspected Fulani kidnappers.

Late Br. Godwin Eze. Credit: Benedictine Monastery, Eruku

The monk’s testimony is not an isolated case in Nigeria where kidnapping targeting Seminaries and other places of training has been on the rise. While some victims of the kidnappings have been killed, those who survived the ordeal shared that they came back stronger, and ready to die for their faith.


Seminarian Melchior Maharini, a Tanzanian who was kidnapped alongside a Priest from the Missionaries of Africa (M.Afr./White Fathers) community in Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Minna in August last year, said that the suffering he endured during the three weeks he was held captive strengthened his faith. “I felt my faith grow stronger. I accepted my situation and surrendered everything to God,” the Seminarian told ACI Africa on 1 September 2023.

Fr. Paul Sanogo (left) and Seminarian Melchior Maharini (right) who were kidnapped from their community of Missionaries of Africa (M.Afr.) in Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Minna. Credit: Vatican Media

Many other seminarians in Nigeria have been kidnapped by Boko Haram militants, the Fulani herdsmen, and other bandit groups operating in Africa’s most populous nation. 

In September last year, Seminarian Na’aman Danlami was burnt alive in a botched kidnapping incident in the Diocese of Kafanchan. A few days earlier, Seminarian Ezekiel Nuhu from the Archdiocese of Abuja who had gone to spend his holidays in Southern Kaduna had been kidnapped

Seminarian Na'aman Danlami died when the Fulanis attacked St. Raphael Fadan Kamantan Parish on the night of Thursday, September 7. Credit: ACN

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In October 2021, Christ the King Major Seminary of Kafanchan Diocese was attacked and three Seminarians kidnapped from the institution. And in August last year, Seminarian David Igba narrated to ACI Africa how he stared death in the face when a car he was traveling in on his way to the market in Makurdi was sprayed with bullets by Fulani herdsmen.

Seminarian David Igba during a pastoral visit at Scared Heart Udei of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. Credit: David Igba

In one of the attacks that attracted global condemnation in 2020, Seminarian Michael Nnadi was brutally murdered after he was kidnapped alongside three others from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in the Catholic Diocese of Kaduna. Those behind the kidnapping confessed that they killed Seminarian Nnadi because he could not stop preaching to them, fearlessly calling them to conversion. 

After Seminarian Nnadi’s murder, his companions who survived the kidnapping proceeded to St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos of Nigeria’s Plateau State where they courageously continued with their formation.

Credit: Fr. Samuel Kanta Sakaba, Rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna


As Christian persecution rages in Nigeria, formators in Seminaries in the country have shared with ACI Africa an emerging spirituality in Nigerian Seminaries that many may find difficult to grasp: The spirituality of martyrdom. 

The formators say that in Nigeria, those who embark on Priestly formation are continuously being made to understand that their calling now entails being ready to defend the faith to the point of death.  More than ever before, the Seminarians are being reminded that they should be ready to face persecution, including the possibility of being kidnapped and even killed.

Fr. Peter Hassan, the Rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos in the Archdiocese of Jos, Plateau State, said that Seminaries, just like the wider Nigerian society, have come to terms with the imminence of death for being Christian. 

Fr. Peter Hassan, Rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Credit: Fr. Peter Hassan

He finds it comforting to see more and more young men enrol for Priestly formation knowing that they face the danger of being kidnapped and even killed.

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“Nigerian Christians have been victims of violence of apocalyptic proportions for nearly half a century. I can say that we have learned to accept the reality of imminent death,” Fr. Hassam said in a January 12 interview with ACI Africa.

He added, “Nevertheless, it is quite inspiring and comforting to see the many young men who are still ready to embrace a life that will certainly turn them into critically endangered species. Yet these same young men are willing to preach the gospel of peace and embrace the culture of dialogue for peaceful co-existence.”

Shortly after the kidnapping and killing of Seminarian Nnadi, St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos opened its doors to the three Seminarians who survived the kidnapping.

Fr. Hassan told ACI Africa that the presence of the three former students of Good Shepherd Major Seminary was “a blessing” to the community of St. Augustine Major Seminary.

“Their presence in our seminary was some form of blessing to our Seminarians, a wake-up call to the grim reality that not even the very young are spared by those mindless murderers,” the member of the Clergy of Jalingo Diocese said.

Back at Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Seminarians have remained resilient, enrolling in large numbers even after the 2020 kidnapping and Seminarian Nnadi’s murder.

Credit: Fr. Samuel Kanta Sakaba, Rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna

In an interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Samuel Kanta Sakaba, the Rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary said that formators at the Catholic institution, which has a current enrolment of 265 Seminarians make it clear that being a Priest in Nigeria presents the Srians with the danger of being kidnapped or killed.

ACI Africa asked Fr. Sakaba whether or not the formators discuses with the Seminarians the risks they face, including that of being kidnapped, or even killed, to which the Priest responded, “Yes, as formators, we have the duty to take our Seminarians through practical experiences both academic, spiritual and physical experiences. We share this reality of persecution with them but for them to understand, we connect the reality of Christian persecution in Nigeria to the experiences of Jesus. This way, we feel that it would be easier for them to not only have the strength to face what they are facing but to also see meaning in their suffering.”

“Suffering is only meaningful if it is linked with the pain of Jesus,” the Nigerian Catholic Priest said, and added, “The Prophet Isaiah reminds us that ‘by His wounds, we are healed’. Jesus also teaches us that unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it will remain a single grain, but that it is only when it falls and dies that it yields a rich harvest. Teachings such as these are the ones that deepen our resilience in the face of persecution.”

Seminarians and their formators at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Credit: Fr. Peter Hassan

Fr. Sakaba shares the joy of Seminaries who, he said, look forward to “going back to God in a Holy way.” 

“Whatever happens, we will all go back to God. How joyful it is to go back to God in a holy way, in a way of sacrifice. This holiness is accepting this cross, this pain,” he said, and added, “Jesus accepted the pain of Calvary, and that led him to his resurrection. Persecution purifies the individual for them to become the finished product for God. I believe that these attacks are God’s project, and no human being can stop God’s work.”

The Rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary, however, clarified that those who enrol at the Major Seminary do not go out seeking danger.

He said, “People here don’t go out putting themselves in situations of risk. But when situations such as these happen, the teachings of Jesus and his persecution give us courage to face whatever may come our way.”

Fr. Sakaba said that although Priestly formation in Nigeria is embracing the “spirituality of martyrdom”, persecution in the West African country presents “a difficult reality.”

“It is difficult to get used to pain. It is difficult to get used to the issues of death. It is difficult to get familiar with death,” he said, and added, “No one chooses to go into danger just because other people are suffering. It is not part of our nature. But in a situation where you seem not to have an alternative, the grace of God kicks in to strengthen you to face the particular situation.” 

Fr. Sakaba said that since the 2020 attack at Good Shepherd Major Seminary, the institution has had an air of uncertainty.

He said that some of the kidnappers who were arrested in the incident had been released, a situation he said had plunged the Major Seminary into “fear of the unknown.”

“It hasn’t been easy for us since the release. The community was thrown into confusion because of the unknown. We don’t know what will happen next. We don’t know when they will come next or what they will do to us. We don’t know who will be taken next,” Fr. Sakaba said.

Seminarians at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Plateau State at a Marian procession. Credit: Fr. Peter Hassan

He added, “It hasn’t been easy, particularly within the few days of that incident. The resilience of the Seminary community including seminarians, formators, and members of staff, has been great. God has been supporting, encouraging, and leading us. His grace assisted us to continue to practice our faith.”

The Nigerian Priest said that the jihadist attacks, which continue unabated in communities surrounding the Major Seminary, do not make the situation any easier.

Credit: Fr. Samuel Kanta Sakaba, Rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna

“Every attack that happens outside our community reminds us of our own 2020 experience. We are shocked, and although we remain deeply wounded, we believe that God has been leading us,” he told ACI Africa.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.