Aid to the Church in Need reported that they received confirmation on May 11 of the death of Fr. Joseph Aketeh Bako, from the Diocese of Kaduna, in Nigeria, who along with two other priests was abducted in March.
Fr. Joseph had been kidnapped from his home on March 8, and although there had been rumors that he had died in the hands of his abductors weeks ago, Church authorities have only now been able to provide verification. According to local reports gathered by ACN, two weeks ago another person who was being held in the same camp as Fr. Joseph was released. He told the chairman of Fr. Joseph’s parish council that the priest died in the camp because of illness and mistreatment. Despite this, the family held out hope until the last moment that he might be released alive.
“The increase in kidnappings, murders and general violence against civilians, including members of the Catholic clergy in many parts of Nigeria, is a scourge that is yet to be properly addressed by the local authorities,” says Regina Lynch, head of projects at ACN International.
Fr Joseph was one of three Catholic priests kidnapped during this past March. Two other priests, Leo Raphael Ozigi and Felix Zakari Fidson, were subsequently released. In the same period, according to a Nigerian organisation that monitors these acts of violence, 287 people were murdered and 356 kidnapped in Kaduna state alone.
The plight of kidnappings and persecution was mentioned by Archbishop Matthew Manoso Ndagoso, of Kaduna, just weeks ago, on Easter Sunday. “The political will is not there to address the issues of security in this country. The Nigerian security forces have proven they are capable, our military can do this, so that this is happening in our country shows that something has gone wrong. We have nobody else to blame but the Government. They tell us they are on top of the situation, but we think the situation is on top of them.”
Nonetheless, the archbishop spoke of hope. “Yes, we are suffering; yes, we are traumatised; yes, we are despondent; yes, as we talk there are thousands of Nigerians in kidnappers’ dens, and hundreds of thousands that have lost their dear ones, many people here have been victims of these kidnappings. In situations like this it is easy even for the most religious to think that God has abandoned them. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope. The Gospel is saying to the people that the Risen Christ is with us,” he told local media.
Student stoned and burned to death
ACN is deeply troubled by the terrible murder of Deborah Yakubu, a Christian student who was stoned and then burned at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, northern Nigeria.
“ACN decries this most recent act of violence. The levels of extremism and violence reached in Nigeria over the last few years are absolutely appalling. Hardly a week goes by without news of kidnappings and dozens of deaths, but this barbaric act leaves us speechless,” says executive president Thomas Heine-Geldern.
Deborah Yakubo is said to have sent a blasphemous WhatsApp message about Mohammed during Ramadan, when the college was closed for holidays. When she returned to class, a group of students was waiting and attacked her, stoning her and then setting fire to her body. The Shehu Shagari Education College of Sokoto has since been closed by order of the state government of Sokoto.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Deborah’s family and with the Christian community of Sokoto at this time. We also call on all political and religious leaders in Nigeria to firmly and openly condemn this case of religious extremism,” says Heine-Geldern.
“The religious extremism we have become so familiar with under Boko Haram, and that has caused so many innocent victims, seems to have spread and polarised an increasingly large part of society. There is a serious religious liberty crisis, and it is not only caused by terrorists. The Nigerian government must reflect deeply on where this violence is dragging the country, and how it can defend the rights of all its citizens,” Heine-Geldern adds.
Since 1999, twelve states in northern Nigeria have adopted Shariah-based legal codes which operate in parallel with secular courts. Many of these Shariah laws include heavy penalties for blasphemy, including death. However, at least Shariah guarantees a form of due process, without resorting to lynching and summary execution, as happened with this most recent case in Sokoto, which is not unprecedented.
According to ACN’s most recent Religious Freedom Report, after 20 years of Shariah law the situation in northern Nigeria has become worse, with ethnicity and religion becoming shortcuts to power, resources and privilege. The report states that Shariah law has deepened the divisions in the country.
The Catholic bishop of Sokoto, Mgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, who is a promotor of inter-religious dialogue in his diocese, spared no words in condemning the criminal act against Deborah Yakubo. The bishop called on the state government of Sokoto and on the relevant authorities to investigate the incident to determine what caused it and to bring those responsible to justice. Bishop Kukah recalled that Christians have lived in peace with their Muslim neighbours in Sokoto for years, and asked those who were directly affected, and the Christian community of Sokoto, to keep calm and wait for justice to follow its course.
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org(from the U.S.) and www.acninternational.org (outside of the U.S.).