Kidnapped Catholic priests recount ordeal with armed herdsmen
As the two abducted Catholic priests continue to relive their ordeal and thank God for bringing them out alive, more facts have emerged on how they were ambushed, kidnapped but later abandoned by their abductors after four days when it became obvious to their captors that their particular kidnap-for-ransom deal was a dead-on-arrival episode.
The two victims, Rev Fr. Peter Nwachukwu, Parish Priest of St. Theresa’s Parish, Umueze-Anam in Anambra West Local Council and Rev Fr. Cajetan Apeh, his assistant, were kidnapped at Nneyi village, Umuleri area at about 7:30p.m. before Christmas Day while they were returning in a grey Toyota Corolla car marked FST 689 FL to prepare for the visit of Cardinal Francis Arinze to the town.
They were released and abandoned according to the Commissioner of Police, Garba Baba Umar, who claimed that the two priests were rescued after some successful joint security operations by the police special teams comprising FSARS, PMF, Counter Terrorism, Special Anti-cults units in conjunction with other sister agencies and the Vigilante Group in the state.
According to Umar, who spoke through his Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Haruna Mohammed, the recourse to abandon the priests was “as a result of intensive search-and-rescue operation mounted by the joint team for the priests since the incident took place and with the aid of modern technology and aerial surveillance.”
But recounting their ordeals in a testimony after celebrating New Year mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Imufu Enugu Ezike in Enugu State, Reverend Father Apeh revealed that contrary to widely circulated reports that they were kidnapped by ordinary gunmen, the perpetrators were four Fulani herdsmen who were armed with AK 47 rifles.He said they were released when the abductors were convinced that they had no bank account and visible means of livelihood, while they may not be able to pay for their ransom when they couldn’t give out any relatives to contact.
Apeh, who was ordained as a priest on August 11, last year in Enugu, was serving in Abuja until his transfer to Anam in November 2018 following a vacancy created by the exit of members of their Carmelite profession in the church.He revealed that they were not allowed to talk to each other from the time of their abduction to the point of their abandonment, adding that two of them were given a sachet of water to share each day, while the Fulani herdsmen fed them with half a loaf of the wheat bread they took from them for the four days in captivity before their release.
The cleric disclosed that he had taken his parish priest to hospital, from where they went to buy some items the parish would use during the visit of Cardinal Francis Arinze from Rome on Christmas day when they met their waterloo.
“On December 24, my parish priest told me that he was sick and could not drive himself to the hospital. He asked me to drive him to see a doctor. When we finished from the hospital, we went to buy some things that would be used during the visit of Cardinal Arinze to our parish the next day, being Christmas Day.
“However, as we were returning, we were stopped at a very bad portion of the road leading to Anam. A Fulani herdsman armed with AK47 rifle, jumped out from the bush and pointed his gun at us, threatening to shoot if we didn’t stop. It was really an ambush.“Initially, we thought it was just robbery, but after searching and taking all our belongings, they led us into the bush where two of us were given half a loaf of the wheat bread they took from us for four days before our release to our superiors, who drove from Enugu to Anam on the instruction of the herdsmen.
“During the period, we were not allowed to talk to ourselves even as two of us drank one sachet of water per day. On the night of the second day, we were shivering, as the harmattan cold was too much, so one of them made fire for us to keep us warm. I wore a pair of trousers and a T-shirt. Apart from the cold, mosquitoes bite us throughout the period. We slept in the open farm without anything to cover ourselves while our captors wore jackets to protect them from the cold.
“On December 26, the condition of my parish priest (Nwachukwu) deteriorated because although we were given some drugs in the hospital, he was not allowed to take his medications. His blood pressure became very high and he was very weak.
“They (kidnappers) were communicating with our superiors, telling them that they wanted big money as ransom but when after several days, nobody offered them any money, they became disappointed. They asked us of our bank account numbers and we told them we had no personal bank accounts; that everything belonged to the church. They asked if I was married, I said no, because I am a Catholic priest. They said that if I was married, my wife or members of my family would have been calling them and running around for ransom.
“Due to intense prayers, we were released to one of our superiors who traveled to Anam from Enugu, unaccompanied by any policeman or security agent,” he added.Rev. Fr. Apeh recalled that throughout their period in captivity, the Fulani herdsmen only permitted them to lie or sit down, but never allowed them to stand up except while going to ease themselves with the permission of their captors.
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