Nigerian Church Leader Says Huge Ransom Was Paid For His Release

A Methodist Church in Nigeria clergyman has revealed that the church paid a ransom of almost a quarter of a million dollars for his release. Gunmen abducted the Prelate on Sunday as he traveled to Abia State in southeastern Nigeria. The payment comes as the Nigerian president is expected to sign a bill punishing those who pay ransoms with up to 15 years in prison.

The Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, Samuel Kanu-Uche, made the announcement during a briefing to reporters in Lagos on Tuesday, shortly after his release.

He was received by a cheering crowd of church members and immediately prayed at the church before the briefing.

Kanu-Uche said the church paid around $240,000 in ransom to his captors to secure his freedom and that of the two pastors traveling with him.

Eight gunmen ambushed them on their way to Abia State airport on Sunday, firing sporadically at their vehicle before taking them hostage. The clergy driver and another church member escaped the assault.

Kanu-Uche said the kidnappers showed them the rotting bodies of previously kidnapped victims who could not pay a ransom and threatened to do the same to him.

Nigerian authorities have yet to comment on his release. But officials have repeatedly opposed paying ransom for kidnap victims, saying the payments make the kidnappers more powerful.

Archbishop Chibuzo Opoko leads the Methodist Church in Abia State. He says paying the ransom was necessary.

“They wouldn’t have released them if it hadn’t been done, it wasn’t security that intervened,” he said. “How effective will this law be when security agencies aren’t doing their best?” What is the law for those who kidnap and demand a ransom?

Armed groups and criminals have kidnapped hundreds if not thousands of people for ransom across Nigeria over the past two years. UNICEF says that number includes at least 1,500 students abducted in North Central and North West Nigeria since late 2020.

In an effort to curb kidnappings, the Nigerian Senate recently approved legislation that would punish ransom payments with up to 15 years in prison.

The bill would also punish kidnapping with the death penalty if the kidnapped person dies in custody.

Rights groups and families of kidnapped victims continue to protest the move. Among them is Abdulfatai Jimoh, a spokesperson for the families of passengers abducted from a train in Kaduna state in late March.

“It’s an abnormal bill, abnormal in the sense that in a country where such a bill can exist, there should be a country that has a law in place that when a person is kidnapped, that no one must be rescued within 48 hours. Nothing like that where there is no way to prevent anyone from paying a ransom,” he said.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to say whether he will sign the bill.