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Two Nigerian Catholic Priests Regain Freedom after Monthlong Captivity, Diocese Thankful

Fr. Stephen Ojapah, MSP, and Fr. Oliver Okpara freed in Nigeria's Sokoto Diocese on 26 June 2022 after a month in capivity. Credit: Fr. Chris Omotosho

Fr. Stephen Ojapah and Fr. Oliver Okpara who were abducted last month after gunmen stormed their residence at St. Patrick's Catholic Parish of Sokoto Diocese have gained their freedom, the Nigerian Diocese has confirmed. 

In a note shared with ACI Africa Sunday, June 26, the Communications Director of Sokoto Diocese also announced the safe release of two other persons who had been kidnapped alongside the Parish Priest and his Assistant. 

“With hearts full of joy, we announce that our brethren Fr. Stephen Ojapa, Fr. Oliver Okpara, Mr. Hassan Hassan & Ms. Ummie Hassan who were abducted by gunmen at midnight of 25th May, 2022 in the rectory of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, Kafur LGA of Katsina State, have all gained freedom,” Fr Chris Omotosho says in his note dated June 26.

Fr. Omotosho adds, “We thank you for your prayers, support, encouragement and show of love. May the name of the Lord be praised, now and forever. Amen! Thank you!”

In a message shared with ACI Africa following the May 25 abduction of the individuals, Fr. Omotosho appealed for prayers “for their safety and release”. 

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He stated that Fr. Ojapah, also a member of MSP, and his Assistant had been kidnapped along with “two boys”.

According to a BBC April 11 News report, “Nigeria is grappling with a wave of violence by armed gangs who frequently carry out killings and kidnappings for ransom – mostly in unprotected rural communities.

A couple of weeks before the attack on St. Patrick's Catholic Parish and the abduction of the four, institutions of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto were vandalized by irate Muslim youths.

The Muslim youths who were protesting the arrest of Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci apprehended in connection with the stoning to death of Deborah Yakubu at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto on May 12 vandalized various Catholic Church premises including the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral of Sokoto Diocese, St. Kevin's Catholic Church Gidan Dere, Bishop Lawton Secretariat, and St. Bakhita Centre located along Aliyu Jodi Road where they burnt down a bus.

Deborah who had reportedly testified that Jesus Christ helped her pass exams was accused of making blasphemous statements about the Prophet Muhammad.

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The Local Ordinary of Sokoto Diocese condemned the killing of the Christian, and demanded justice for her saying the murder is “a criminal act and the law must take its cause”.

“We condemn this incident in the strongest terms and call on the authorities to investigate this tragedy and ensure that all the culprits are brought to book,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah said in his May 12 statement.