Four British missionaries kidnapped in Delta state
Following the recent abduction of an Italian priest, who was released unharmed after spending three days captive in a forest, Nigerian police released a statement saying that four British missionaries were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in the country’s southern Delta state on 13 October. The identity of the missionary team is not being disclosed at the request of the Foreign Office.
The British missionaries had been providing ‘free medical care and religious activities’ said Chief Theo Nakama from the local Enukorowa community. Nakama said locals were ‘saddened’ by the kidnapping because the victims had ‘brought succour to residents of the community for the past three years’.
The kidnapped missionaries include a doctor and his wife, both aged 57, who are evangelical Christians and operate four clinics that offer free medical treatment, including immunisations and natal classes. They have two university-educated sons also working for the same British charity that describes its aim as “to train, resource and remunerate local workers, and to partner with government and other NGO’s in work that is driven and underpinned through a faith in Jesus Christ.”
Much of the missionaries’ work is done in the Delta’s “riverine” areas. These dense swamps and creeks, which are only accessible by boat, lie mostly beyond the reach of the law and are havens for militant groups. The four missionaries had been rendering humanitarian services in the isolated Burutu area for three years. “But unfortunately they didn’t let the authorities know of their presence in the area all this while,” said Andrew Anamika, a spokesman for the Delta state police.
“There is a militant group that has been operating in the area and we believe they are the ones behind the abduction. Immediately the militants struck, they whisked the victims to the interior regions of the creek where we believe they are being held for the past five days,” said Anamika. “The abductors have not made any contact but we are doing our investigations to know the motive and have them rescued without jeopardising their lives,” he added.
Zanna Ibrahim, Delta’s police commissioner, said the prime suspects were a local militant group called the Karowei, and that the kidnapping may have been in response to “Operation Crocodile Smile”, a recent law and order operation. Police are currently interrogating 14 kidnap suspects, including five accused of being involved in the missionaries’ kidnapping.
John Pontifex from Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that monitors the welfare of Christians worldwide, said: “This incident is a salutary reminder that violence and oppression in Nigeria are by no means confined to the north of the country which has been terrorised by Boko Haram and other militant groups. People all over Nigeria are at risk from organised crime. We very much hope and pray that all four will soon be released safe and sound.”
Kidnapping for ransom is a common problem in parts of Nigeria and the incident is not thought to be terrorist-related. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped in the Niger Delta region, which holds most of the country’s crude oil, in the last few years. There was an increase in crime in the southern region last year.