Third Catholic Priest Kidnapped in Nigeria in March

Parish Priest Father Leo Raphael Ozigi

Third Catholic Priest Kidnapped
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Father Leo Raphael Ozigi is the third Catholic priest kidnapped in March in Nigeria.

Fr. Ozigi, parish priest of the church of St Mary, in the village of Sarkin Pawa, in the local government area of Munya, in the state of Niger (in the Middle Belt, the central area that separates the Muslim-majority north from the Christian-majority south), was kidnapped by bandits on Sunday evening, March 27, along with 44 other villagers.

“Fr. Leo Raphael Ozigi was abducted while returning to Gwada after Sunday service from Sarkin Pawa”, confirmed Rev. Raphael Opawoye, secretary of the Niger State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The village where the priest was abducted along with other residents is just one of at least six villages in Munya governorate that were attacked between Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th. Bandits laid siege to the Kuchi/Chibani link, raiding and looting villages along the road, forcing residents to flee. Raids in Niger state continued yesterday, March 28, when bandits raided the village of Kabo in Gurara local governorate, killing at least three people. In early March, local authorities said more than 200 gang members had been killed in a series of clashes with security forces. In addition to Father Ozigi, two other priests were kidnapped in Nigeria in March alone, both in the northern state of Kaduna: Father Joseph Akete Bako, parish priest of St. John’s Church in Kudenda in the local government area of Kaduna South, was kidnapped the night of March 8, 2022, in an assault on the parish house during which a person was killed and Fr. Felix Zakari Fidson, of the Diocese of Zaria, kidnapped on March 24.

Kidnappings are a hallmark of terrorists in Nigeria, including Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa Province, and clergy are increasingly being targeted. For more than a month in Spring 2021, Father Bako Francis Awesuh, 37, a priest at St. John Paul II parish in Gadanaji, Kachia local government area, in Kaduna state, was held captive by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, who stand accused of deadly attacks on Christian farmers along Nigeria’s Middle Belt. Father Awesuh described his ordeal in a recent interview with Aid to the Church in Need.