The Catholic Bishop of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese is spearheading negotiations to secure the safe release of the elderly Nigerian Priest kidnapped last week when gunmen attacked St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church Malunfashi in Katsina State within his episcopal see.
Fr. Alphonsus Bello, the 33-year-old Fidei Donum Priest who was serving as Parish Priest was murdered in the wake of the attack that occurred in the early hours of Friday, May 21.
In an interview with the charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Matthew Kukah says he is in contact with those behind the abduction of 75-year-old Fr. Joseph Keke.
“We have established contact with the kidnappers and we are talking,” Bishop Kukah has been quoted as telling ACN in the Wednesday, May 26 report.
He adds, “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.”
Disclosing the nature of the negotiations in monetary terms, the Nigerian Bishop says, “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.”
“We have one of our persons negotiating with them, but it is a painful experience, often traumatic because of the inhuman ways they speak and the threats they make. Our only weapon is prayer,” Bishop Kukah says.
He describes those involved in what seems to be targeted attacks as “just outright criminals, often working with locals in the communities who serve as informants. They just identify soft targets and their primary motivation is money.”
“Fr. Bello’s death is part of the senseless and endless losses that have engulfed our nation,” Bishop Kukah says, and adds, “We miss him, but the Lord’s work continues.”
He further says, “We are all literally under the sword in Nigeria, a country that is being consumed by a barbaric horde of humanity.”
The Local Ordinary of Sokoto Diocese notes, “It is a sad loss but we as Christians and we as Priests always look ahead towards the promise that lies ahead.”
“Our consolation is that we ordained three deacons only a few months back and we have five lined up for later in the year,” the 68-year-old Nigerian Bishop tells ACN in the May 26 report.
Bishop Kukah has been vocal in criticizing the Nigerian government's handling of the ongoing Islamist insurgency that has killed up to 12,000 Christians since June 2015, according to Nigerian human rights organization, Intersociety.
In his 2020 Christmas Message, Bishop Kukah criticized the Muhammadu Buhari-led government amid multiple cases of insecurity in parts of Africa’s most populous nation characterized by abductions and killings.
In the message titled, “A Nation in Search of Vindication,” he highlighted the “endless woes” the people of God in Nigeria are experiencing.
The Bishop’s Christmas message triggered mixed reactions, with some quarters accusing him of “very serious crimes like treason and incitement for a coup.”
Following these accusations, various Church leaders in Nigeria came to his defense, including Nigeria’s Christian leaders who called on the President to protect Bishop Kukah.
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 urgent action is 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 Bishops said, adding, “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.”