Catholic Priest Killed, Another Kidnapped in Attack on Nigerian Parish

Bishops in Nigeria have repeatedly called on the government to do more to improve security in the country.

Fr. Joe Keke, left, remains missing. Fr. Alphonsus Bello, right, was killed at age 33.
Fr. Joe Keke, left, remains missing. Fr. Alphonsus Bello, right, was killed at age 33. (photo: Diocese of Sokoto. / Diocese of Sokoto)

SOKOTO, Nigeria — Gunmen attacked a Catholic parish in northern Nigeria Thursday, killing one priest and kidnapping another.

Fr. Alphonsus Bello was found dead May 21, the morning after his parish, St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in the Diocese of Sokoto, was attacked by armed bandits. He was 33.

Fr. Bello was kidnapped along with another priest, Fr. Joe Keke, 75, who remains missing, according to a statement from the diocese in the extreme northwest of Nigeria.

Fr. Cornelius Tagwai, chancellor of Sokoto diocese, appealed for prayers for “the immediate and safe return of Fr. Keke and for the peaceful repose of Fr. Bello.”

After the attack, Fr. Bello’s body was left in a farmland behind the local catechetical training school. 

“May the soul of Fr. Bello and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” Fr. Tagwai said in a message sent to ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

The incident is the latest in a series of abductions and killings of clergy in Africa’s most populous country.

On May 17, a Catholic priest serving in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna archdiocese was kidnapped with 10 other people in an attack by gunmen that killed eight people.

Two days later, bandits reportedly attacked an Assemblies of God church building in northern Nigeria, also killing eight people, according to local media.

Nigerians have suffered attacks from Boko Haram since 2009. Insecurity in the country has also worsened due to the actions of the predominantly Muslim Fulani militia, who often clash with farmers over grazing lands.

Bishops in Nigeria have repeatedly called on the government to do more to improve security in the country.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said May 7: “Insecurity is the greatest challenge facing our country. Boko Haram has menacingly ravaged the land, the herdsmen/farmer menace has festered and spread and has today developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, and brutal killings.” 

“Nigeria is said to be the third country most impacted by terrorism. We call on the government to do the needful in ensuring that terrorists are checkmated, criminals rounded up, bandits dismantled, and kidnappers put out of business,” the archbishop said.

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“We ask for your closeness to us in praying for the quick and safe release of our abducted brothers,” Father Emmanuel Okolo, chancellor of the Diocese of Kafanchan, wrote in an Oct. 12 memo.

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