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Nigerian priest kidnapped and killed after church service

by Tola Mbakwe
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A Nigerian priest has been killed in what's the latest act of violence against clergy in the country.

The body of Fr John Gbakaan Yaji, of Minna diocese, in Nigeria's Middle Belt region, was discovered on Sunday.  

Fr John's brother, who has not been named, was abducted at the same time but his whereabouts are unknown. 

Paying tribute to Father John, Father Emmanuel Anyanywu told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the murdered priest was young, gentle and dedicated. 

 "I'm saddened by this," he said. "Father John, who was barely four years in the priesthood, was a very gentle and humble priest, dedicated to the service of God and his people."

Father Emmanuel added: "[T]he Bishop with the priests and religious and the entire Minna diocese mourn the death of a brother, a friend, a priest…"

Father John and his brother were kidnapped on 15th January in Tufa village after attending Mass. 

Rev John Hayab, vice-chairman of the northern region of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), pleaded with the Nigerian government to step up security.        

He told Nigerian newspaper Vanguard: "Today in northern Nigeria many people are living in fear and many young people are afraid to become pastors because pastors' lives are in great danger.

"When bandits or kidnappers realise that their victim is a priest or a pastor it seems a violent spirit does take over their heart to demand more ransom and in some cases go to the extent of killing the victim." 

Father John's killing comes after Catholic priest Fr Michael Mbari, from the diocese of Port Harcourt, was released on 15th January, a week after being kidnapped. 

In a statement, Bishop Camillus Archibong Etokudoh of Port Harcourt said: "This is a sad story to show how unsafe we are in the present-day society as well as how helpless we can be in the face of insecurity…

"I use this opportunity to appeal to the government to do something more to make life in our society safe and worth living [in]."

Fr Emmanuel said: "Father Michael has been released. After some medical checkup and medication he has returned back to his parish."

On 1st January, Auxiliary Bishop Moses Chikwe of Owerri and his driver, Robert Ndubuisi, were released by their kidnappers five days after being kidnapped.

According to Christian persecution charity Open Doors, the killings of Christian in Nigeria during 2020 tripled to 3,800. On average, ten Christians were killed every single day in Nigeria. 

Violence is mainly focused in the northern part of the country. 

Janet Daby, a Labour MP for Lewisham brought up the plight of Nigerian Christians during Church Commissioner's Questions on Thursday. 

She asked Church Commissioner Andrew Selous: "A recent Open Doors UK event highlighted that Christians are more likely to be tortured and murdered for their faith by Islamic militants in the north of Nigeria than in any other country. 

"Persecution also includes denying Christians food, aid and treatment for covid-19. The UK Government need to place pressure on the Nigerian Government to defend and protect their Christian population.

 "What is the Church of England's involvement in supporting these persecuted Christians, and what relief work is it doing with Nigerian internally displaced people camps?"

Mr Selous replied: "The Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, is monitoring the recent violence and the kidnapping of 300 schoolboys. He and I have met the family of Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2018, and who is still a prisoner, as she refuses to renounce Jesus. Clergy who have spoken out have been threatened by prominent civil society organisations, and the Church continues to stay closely involved."

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