Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Two of three pastors kidnapped in north-central Nigeria on March 21 have been released, while the third died after being left in the wild, sources said.
The Rev. Iliya Anto, initially said to have been released by the kidnappers because of ill health, was found dead in the bush 10 days after the abduction, said the Rev. Jibrailu Wobiya, general secretary of United Church of Christ in Nigeria (HEKAN). Details of his death remained unclear, but he was reportedly said to have died after the kidnappers left him in the wild. Anto was a pastor and vice president of the HEKAN in city.
The other two pastors, the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Dziggau, president of the church, and the Rev. Yakubu Dzarma, a retired church leader, were released on Wednesday night (March 30), Wobiya said.
Unidentified assailants kidnapped the three pastors along the Kaduna-Abuja Road as the Christian leaders were supervising work at the church’s prayer campground.
“I can now confirm the release of the two, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, the president of our church, and the Rev. Yakubu Dzarma, a retired pastor of our church,” Wobiya told Morning Star News. “Unfortunately, the third pastor, the Rev. Iliya Anto, died during the incident.”
Wobiya declined to say whether his church paid the 100 million naira (US$500,000) the kidnappers had demanded for the release of the pastors. He said the time was not right to discuss it as the traumatized church mourned the death of Anto.
“We are saddened by this incident, and we are traumatized by it,” he said. “We are at the moment mourning the death of the Rev. Anto and are preparing for his funeral. I do not have much to say on this at the moment, because I am not in the right frame of mind to discuss this issue.”
The assailants had kidnapped the three church leaders at gunpoint after storming the church prayer camp site in Kaduna, where the clergymen were supervising work in preparation for an Easter retreat for their church. Wobiya, who escaped with other church members from the site, said the assailants disrupted a service and dragged the three pastors into their vehicle as church members fled, he said.
The Rev. Moses Ebuga, general secretary of the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria (TEKAN), told media on March 22 that the kidnappers used Anto’s mobile phone to call and demand payment.
A relative of Dziggau reportedly said the kidnappers had lowered their ransom demand to 20 million naira (US$99,000) and suspected the kidnapping was motivated by politics within the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) amid selection of a successor as president of the association.
After meeting in Abuja on March 24, leaders of the CAN had called on the government to take urgent measures to rescue the pastors.
Well-armed cattle rustlers in Kaduna state who have long raped and pillaged have recently turned to kidnapping, according to published reports. Police officials in northern Kaduna reportedly said they have set up a special task force to tackle the “change of tactics by the bandits.”
Anto was from Randa in Kaduna state, a town where one of the earliest Christian missions station in northern Nigeria was established. Missionaries of the Sudan United Mission (SUM) established a mission station there in 1920.
It was also in Randa that the TEKAN was birthed in 1955. The fellowship unites 13 evangelical church denominations in Nigeria.