Nigerian Catholic Priest Regains Freedom Days after His Colleague is Laid to Rest

Fr. Joe Keke, 75, who was released 3 June 2021 after spending two weeks in captivity. Credit: Fr. Chris Omotosho

The Nigerian Catholic Priest who was kidnapped alongside slain Fr. Alphonsus Bello when St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Parish of Sokoto Diocese was attacked on May 20 has been released.

The Director of Communications of Sokoto Diocese has announced the safe release of Fr. Joe Keke, 75, in a Thursday, June 3 statement.

“Dear Frs, Srs & the entire People of God, this is to officially announce that Very Rev. Fr. Joe Keke has been received from the hands of his kidnappers,” Fr. Chris Omotosho says, and adds, “We thank God for your prayer.”

The freed Priest is currently receiving medication, Fr. Omotosho further says, adding, “Continue to keep Fr. Keke in your prayers. May the soul of Fr. Alphonsus Bello through the mercy of God rest in peace.”

A search for Fr. Keke was launched following the May 20 attack with the leadership of the Nigerian Diocese appealing for  spiritual solidarity.  


In an interview with the Catholic charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Local Ordinary of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, said he was in contact with those behind the abduction Fr. Keke.

“We have established contact with the kidnappers and we are talking,” Bishop Kukah was quoted as saying in the May 26 report, and added, “It is one of the most painful experiences, talking and pleading with hardened criminals and murderers who, in a more civilized environment, should be locked away for life, but before whose mercy you stand.”

The Nigerian Bishop disclosed the nature of the negotiations in monetary terms saying, “From the voice of the man, he may be in his 30s. On Saturday, they asked for ₦100m (US$.242,424) and then came down to ₦50m (US$.121,212) and that is the way it goes. You make an offer and it keeps going on and on.”

The abduction of Fr. Keke and the murder of Fr. Bello who was laid to rest Tuesday, June 1 are the latest incidents in a series of attacks that have targeted church institutions and personalities in Nigeria.

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On March 30, this year, Fr. Ferdinand Fanen Ngugban and six others were killed following the attack on St. Paul Ayetwar Parish of Nigeria’s Katsina Diocese.

On May 17, a Catholic Priest of Kaduna Archdiocese was kidnapped alongside ten other people when gunmen invaded Kadaje community in Kachia Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, an incident that saw eight people lose their lives. 

On May 19, bandits reportedly attacked the Ungwan Gaida community in Chukun LGA, torched an Assembly of God’s Church building and killed eight people. 

Catholic Bishops have expressed concerns about the high levels of insecurity in the country and called for urgent action to save the situation.

In a statement issued May 11, Catholic Bishops in Nigeria’s Ecclesiastical Provinces of Onitsha and Owerri said that the West African nation is in “great danger” and that urgent action was required to address the high levels of insecurity.


“The state of Nigeria in different parts of our country with so much violence, insecurity and anxiety is a source of major concern to us Bishops,” the Catholic Bishops said.

They added, “We are speaking to you, our people at various levels of government and across the nation, to see that this nation is in great danger unless we bring a new spirit, a new approach.”

At the celebration of Vigil Mass ahead of the burial of Fr. Alphonsus Bello, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah faulted the Nigerian government for laxity in ensuring security for citizens and called on members of the executive to rethink their oath of office.

“There is nowhere in the world where people are dying like they are in our country. There is nowhere in the world where the barbarity and the treatment of human life are manifested as it is in Nigeria,” Bishop Kukah bemoaned in his Monday, May 31 homily.

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He added, “I think the President of Nigeria and some of the governors can actually address Nigerians and say, fellow Nigerians, I have sworn that I will not protect you. I will not protect you from foreign invaders, I will not protect you from being killed. I will not protect you from being kidnapped, I will not protect you from bandits, I will not protect you from abductors.”

“As Christians, no matter the turbulence our society lives in, we must stand by the promises of God. As Christians, we remind ourselves that only the purifying blood of Jesus Christ offers us hope,” the 68-year-old Bishop further said.