NIGERIA: Catholic priest murdered

With image of Father John Gbakaan Yaji (Credit: Father Emmanuel Anyanywu)
With image of Father John Gbakaan Yaji (Credit: Father Emmanuel Anyanywu)

Armed bandits in Nigeria have kidnapped and killed a priest returning from Mass in the latest act of violence against clergy in the country.

The body of Father John Gbakaan Yaji, 38, of Minna diocese, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, was discovered yesterday (Sunday, 17th January).

Father Yaji’s brother, who has not been named, was abducted at the same time but his whereabouts are unknown.

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

In an interview today (Monday, 18th January), Father Anyanywu, an ACN source from Nigeria, said: “I’m saddened by this. Please pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Rev Fr John Gbakaan Yaji, killed by terrorists as he was returning from Mass on 15th January 2021.

“His lifeless body was discovered yesterday (17th January).

“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 Anyanwu 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 Yaji and his brother were kidnapped on Friday (15th January) in Tufa village along the Lambata-Lapai road.

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

As reported by Nigerian newspaper ‘Vanguard’, he said: “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 Yaji’s killing followed news that a Catholic priest, named Father Michael Mbari, parish priest of St Peter’s in the diocese of Port Harcourt, in the south of the country, was released on Friday (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].”

Father Anyanwu 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.

Nigeria is a priority country for ACN and in 2019 the charity funded 121 projects, including the training of priests, construction of churches and emergency assistance.