By Francesca Sabatinelli & Linda Bordoni
Hundreds of schoolboys who were abducted last week in the northwestern Nigeria have been freed. Two Catholic priests who were kidnapped in the past weeks have also been liberated.
A state official confirmed that the 344 students who were missing for nearly a week, after an attack on a Secondary School in Katsina State, had been rescued by the Nigerian military late on Thursday, and that none of them was harmed.
A government spokesman said the boys have been received at the state capital. It is unclear whether the kidnappings were carried out by extremist Boko Haram militants or by bandits asking for a ransom.
Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli spoke to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja who welcomed the good news. He also expressed relief for the liberation, in separate kidnappings, of two Catholic priests: Fr Matthew Dajo who was held captive for 10 days, and Fr Valentine Ezeugu who was released the day after he was abducted while on his way to his father’s funeral.
But, Archbishop Kaigama pointed out, these are just the latest in a series of kidnappings in Nigeria where, he said, lawlessness is becoming a worrisome “trend”.
Archbishop Kaigama, who asked the faithful for prayers for the release of the captives, has repeatedly urged the government and local authorities to step in with a more forceful effort to protect their people, said these kidnappings reveal serious issues regarding the lack of security and lawlessness in the country.
“The good news is that all of them have been liberated”, the Archbishop said, but the disturbing thing is that it has become a trend, it has become normal, a culture where one should expect bandits or kidnappers or criminals “to come at any time, day or night: this is not acceptable.”
He said the people of Nigeria live in fear: “My priest was kidnapped when he was at home” at 9 pm, not on the road or in the bush... This means, he added, that “it was deliberate, it was calculated, and then they get away with it.” The authorities, he stressed, need to step up.
“Unfortunately we don’t see that happening: it is embarrassing and shameful that the news from Nigeria is always about these kidnappings and killings,” he said.
Appeal to Government and International Community
“We keep appealing to the authorities,” Archbishop Kaigama said, “To do what is needed, and we pray to God because He is the optimal security that we have. We can’t depend on human security!”
“We keep hoping the international community will also give a helping hand,” he said.
The situation in the nation is so serious, the Archbishop explained, that to deal with Boko Haram, with kidnappers, with bandits or militant herdsmen “we need the concerted effort of the Nigerian authorities and the international community to bring these criminal activities to an end so that Nigerians can have peace and celebrate their lives, celebrate Christmas peacefully and happily, and live in great tranquillity: this is our prayer.”
Concern for Christmas gatherings
The Christmas season, Archbishop Kaigama said, could be a time in which other attacks could happen because “kidnappers are on the prowl and bandits operate freely and take the law into their hands”
“If priests and children can be taken from their homes or from schools, it means that when congregations gather for their worship at Christmas, anything could happen,” he said.
Noting that attacks on congregations have happened in the past, with innocent people "shot and killed during worship," he said he is worried that anything could happen.
The festive period, the Archbishop said, brings people together, and he expressed his hope the Government will do what is needed to be pro-active and provide safety for those who unite to celebrate the coming of the Lord.