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Abducted Nigerian Catholic Priest Freed After Weekend Ordeal “in stable condition”

Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha who was kidnapped on April 10. He regained his freedom on April 12. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Nigerian Catholic Priest who had been abducted Saturday, April 10 has been freed and is “in stable condition,” the leadership of his Religious Order has confirmed.

Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha, a member of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians) who spent the weekend with his abductors was freed Monday, April 12, the Provincial Secretary of the Claretians, Fr Matthew Iwuagwu has said in a statement shared with ACI Africa. 

“With grateful hearts, we wish to thank the Almighty God for the release of Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha from the den of the kidnappers,” says Fr. Iwuagwu in the April 12 statement. 

He adds, “The Provincial Superior has spoken with him. He is in a stable condition.”

“We appreciate everyone who stormed heaven with prayers. God is ever faithful and He answered us,” the Provincial Secretary of the Claretians reiterates his expression of gratitude.

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According to reports, gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen kidnapped Fr. Onyeocha at around 7.45pm on April 10 while he was travelling from Enugu to Owerri in the company of a man identified as Bissong Isa Atugu. 

“The vehicle developed fault around Ihube in Okigwe local government area, and as they stepped down to check the vehicle, a group of people believed to be Fulani herdsmen emerged from the bush and inflicted matchet cut injuries on him, while the Priest was kidnapped and taken to unknown destination,” the Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Imo State Police Command, Orlando Godson Ikeokwu, has been quoted as saying

Following the Fr. Onyeocha’s kidnapping, the PPRO of Imo State Police Command said, “the Commissioner of Police, Mr Nadiru Mohammed, has activated all the tactical teams of the Command, with a view to rescuing the Priest, and possibly arrest the culprits.”

“The Command will do everything possible to ensure the rescue of the Priest,” the Nigerian security officers was further quoted as saying. 

In the April 12 statement, the leadership of Claretians express gratitude to the “security operatives for their assistance.”

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Fr. Onyeocha’s kidnapping is the latest in a series of abductions that have targeted members of the Clergy in the West African nation. 

On March 15, Fr. Harrison Egwuenu of the Diocese of Warri was abducted while driving to St. George’s College Obinomba where he had assumed the role of Principal. He regained his freedom a week later, on March 21. 

In December, the Auxiliary Bishop of Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Owerri, Bishop Moses Chikwe was kidnapped by unknown gunmen and later released unharmed.

Last November, Fr. Matthew Dajo, a member of the Clergy of Abuja Archdiocese was kidnapped following a violent attack in the town where his Parish is located. He was released after 10 days of captivity. 

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According to a March 2020 special report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), “no fewer than 20 clergymen including at least eight Catholic Priests/Seminarians were hacked to death in the past 57 months and not less than 50 abducted or kidnapped.”

Catholic Bishops in the West African country have repeatedly called on the Muhammadu Buhari-led government to put in place strict measures to protect her citizens.

In their statement issued on Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary last October, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) stated, “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.” 

The Catholic Bishops added that the people of God in Africa’s most populous country “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.”