Last year, 2023, was a difficult year for Brother Peter Olarewaju, a postulant at the Benedictine monastery in Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese who was kidnapped alongside two others at the monastery. Olarewaju underwent different kinds of torture and witnessed the murder of his companion, Brother Godwin Eze.
After his release, Olarewaju said his kidnapping was a blessing, as it had strengthened his faith. He even said that he is now prepared to die for his faith.
“I am prepared to die a martyr in this dangerous country. I am ready any moment to die for Jesus. I feel this very strongly,” Olarewaju said in an interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, on Nov. 26, 2023, days after he was set free by suspected Fulani kidnappers.
The monk’s testimony is not an isolated case in Nigeria, where kidnapping from seminaries, monasteries, and other places of religious formation has been on the rise. While some victims of the kidnappings have been killed, those who survived the ordeal have shared that they have come back stronger — and ready to die for their faith.
Seminarian Melchior Maharini, a Tanzanian who was kidnapped alongside a priest from the Missionaries of Africa community in the Diocese of Minna in August 2023, said the suffering he endured during the three weeks he was held captive strengthened his faith. “I felt my faith grow stronger. I accepted my situation and surrendered everything to God,” he told ACI Africa on Sept. 1, 2023.
Many other seminarians in Nigeria have been kidnapped by Boko Haram militants, Fulani herdsmen, and other bandit groups operating in Africa’s most populous nation.
In August 2023, seminarian David Igba told ACI Africa that he stared death in the face when a car in which he was traveling on his way to the market in Makurdi was sprayed with bullets by Fulani herdsmen.
In September 2023, seminarian Na’aman Danlami was burned alive in a botched kidnapping incident in the Diocese of Kafanchan. A few days earlier, another seminarian, Ezekiel Nuhu, from the Archdiocese of Abuja, who had gone to spend his holidays in Southern Kaduna, was kidnapped.
In one attack that attracted global condemnation in 2020, seminarian Michael Nnadi was brutally murdered after he was kidnapped alongside three others from Good Shepherd Major Seminary in the Diocese of Kaduna. Those behind the kidnapping confessed that they killed Nnadi because he would not stop preaching to them, fearlessly calling them to conversion.
After Nnadi’s murder, his companions who survived the kidnapping proceeded to St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos in Nigeria’s Plateau state, where they courageously continued with their formation.
As Christian persecution rages in Nigeria, seminary instructors in the country have shared with ACI Africa that there is an emerging spirituality in Nigerian seminaries that many may find difficult to grasp: the spirituality of martyrdom.
They say that in Nigeria, those who embark on priestly formation are continuously being made to understand that their calling now entails being ready to defend the faith to the point of death. More than ever before, the seminarians are being reminded that they should be ready to face persecution, including the possibility of being kidnapped and even killed.
Father Peter Hassan, rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Jos, Plateau state, said that seminaries, just like the wider Nigerian society, have come to terms with “the imminence of death” for being Christian.
“Nigerian Christians have been victims of violence of apocalyptic proportions for nearly half a century. I can say that we have learned to accept the reality of imminent death,” Hassan said in a Jan. 12 interview with ACI Africa.
He added: “Nevertheless, it is quite inspiring and comforting to see the many young men who are still ready to embrace a life that will certainly turn them into critically endangered species. Yet these same young men are willing to preach the gospel of peace and embrace the culture of dialogue for peaceful coexistence.”
By Agnes Aineah