Abuja Archdiocese wants missing priest back, 16 months after kidnap
By MAGNUS EZE
Forlorn and absent-minded, with occasionally smiles that belied her pains, the dark, spare woman in her early sixties was the centre of attention at the votive Mass to seek God’s mercy for the missing Rev. Fr. Gabriel Oyaka. Clergymen and women, parishioners and everybody in the hall tried to catch a glimpse of her or pass some words of consolation and encouragement.
But one question seemed to occupy the mind of the widow: the whereabouts of her son, Reverend Father Gabriel Oyaka.
Fr. Gab Oyaka, 40, a Spiritan priest of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, was kidnapped by yet unidentified persons 16 months ago, along the Lokoja-Okene-Auchi highway as he was travelling to Onitsha, Anambra State.
Since then, nothing has been heard about him, nor whether he is dead or alive.
This is the frustration, torture and agony that his mother, Mrs. Oyaka, has had to live with these past months.
Oyaka was kidnapped on September 7, 2016, as travelled in his blue Toyota Corolla car. He was alleged to have suddenly found himself blocked by some armed bandits, who searched the long queue of vehicles, until they identified him.
He was also said to have been dragged into the bush by his abductors, abandoning his car, phone and other valuables on the scene. No demand for ransom was made from any quarters, which sparked speculations that he may have been the target of a premeditated attack.
When the news got to the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Daily Sun learnt that a search team was immediately dispatched to Kogi State, where they worked with some priests from the state and the security agencies to find the missing priest. The search party combed the bushes even towards the Edo State axis, to no avail.
Three police commands, Kogi, Edo and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), were said to have been duly contacted, since his last place of assignment was the Holy Ghost Congregation of Fathers, Katampe, Abuja, where he was the financial secretary.
All the efforts to find him have been futile, with more questions than answers: why would anyone go after a priest?
Many parishioners at Our Queen of Martha Parish, Sabon Lugbe, off Airport Road, Abuja, where Fr. Oyaka began his priesthood assignment, were still at a loss as to what could have happened to the cleric.
While some of them would not want their names in print, they described the missing priest as a very honest, humble, caring and pious man of God who gave a lot of love to the flock.
One of the parishioners who identified herself as Perpetua, said: “He had time for everybody. In fact, he would say that no human being can make him angry. Fr. Oyaka was always there for me; he really affected my life. He helped me in anger management; he would even ask me, why would you allow human beings determine your mood?
“That’s the kind of priest he was; if you slapped him, he would turn the other cheek for you.”
Some parishioners tried to hazard some guesses on the various leads, beginning from the Sabon Lugbe Parish, through his last posting at the Holy Ghost Congregation, Katampe, to his community, where he was born.
Respondents attested to his good, near-spotless nature, adding that he was imbued with an uncommon mien.
However, Daily Sun gathered that there was a case of theft involving millions of naira at the Katampe office of the Holy Ghost Fathers, over which the priest once raised the alarm.
Though the issue was said to have been resolved, dispassionate observers would want investigators to properly explore that lead, if it has not been looked into already, as it may be a motive for someone to settle scores with the clergyman.
Some others also said that they had expected the police to do a more clinical job by carrying out forensic examination of his telephone call log; including short message service.
Another parishioner, Mr. Jude Nwoha (not real name), said, “Whether we see Fr. Oyaka again or we don’t see him, only God will console us. His stay with us here, as assistant priest, was very fruitful to the parish.”
Wanted dead or alive
It was a solemn and emotive assembly last Thursday when parishioners turned out in large numbers to honour their former priest at the votive Mass held by the archdiocese, in collaboration with the Holy Ghost Congregation of Fathers, who sent a delegation from their headquarters in Rome.
The Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, in his sermon, stated that anything that has a beginning must have an end. He urged Christians not to see the current suffering in the country, including killings, as a permanent thing.
Onaiyekan noted that the kidnap of Fr. Oyaka has remained a very painful experience to his family, the Congregation of Holy Ghost Fathers and the archdiocese of Abuja.
He consoled all affected by the disappearance of the priest, saying that the church would continue to pray for him to be found.
Shortly after the Mass, the Congregation of Holy Ghost Fathers addressed a press conference, where they gave details of efforts in the past 16 months in search of Fr. Oyaka, all to no avail.
The Provincial Superior of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers in Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Ayodele Ayeni, said they were speaking out now because the system has failed them.
He stated that they had cooperated with the police who at every point assured them that the situation was under control, “but the institution has failed, that’s why we called this press conference.”
Cardinal Onaiyekan used the occasion to condemn the spate of bloodletting in the country, saying that the nation was in an emergency, requiring urgent action by government to protect lives and property.
He noted that killings orchestrated by kidnappers and those believed to be herders were giving Nigeria a bad image in the global community, stressing that Nigeria had no reason to join other countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to install a new President in The Gambia, if it was not able to protect its own people.
To him, the disappearance of Fr. Oyaka was part of the general tragedy that has overtaken the land.
“Today, we are talking about one Reverend Father who was taken away and was never seen for over one year now. Many other people have been kidnapped, many came back and some haven’t come back. And as we are talking, kidnapping, killing is still going on. The country cannot sustain this indefinitely; our country is in danger.
“Our country should know that all these things are going round the whole world and the whole world is talking about it. We can no longer just keep quiet and allow it to go on. It’s giving us a bad name, apart from the fact that it’s giving a lot of suffering to poor people in our land. That’s why I have decided to join the Holy Ghost Fathers in this press conference so as to further reinforce how serious we see this matter.
“For me, it’s not really a question of a Reverend Father being killed, but to speak generally about the (situation of) Nigerian lives no longer being safe. It doesn’t matter who is killed, who is disappearing, the important matter is the Nigerian life no longer being safe.
“Hundreds are being killed; those are Nigerian lives being lost. Does it mean that we no longer have any kind of regard and respect for human life? If that is the case, then we are in the jungle and that should not be allowed to continue,” he said.
On his part, the Assistant Superior-General of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost in Rome, Rev. Fr. Bede Ukwuije, said they were informed that the Nigerian security system had failed to find the whereabouts of their missing colleague.
He urged Nigerians, irrespective of their religion, to embrace dialogue, adding that what was needed was for all religious leaders to come together and decide how to hold political leaders accountable.
Ukwuije said when this was done and everybody shunned evil, peace would return to Nigeria.
Cases of abducted priests
In recent months, several priests have been kidnapped or killed in road ambushes. On August 15, 2016, a Claretian priest (Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), Fr. Dennis Osuagwu, was assassinated in Nekede, Imo State, while Fr. Emmanuel Akingbade, the pastor of St. Benedict catholic Church, Ido-Ekiti in south-west Nigeria, was kidnapped on June 8, 2016, and released eight days later.
Prior to this period, Fr. Goodwill Onyeka was on June 1, 2016, killed along with his brother in a robbery incident along the Owo-Oba-Akoko road in Ondo State. On May 4, 2016, Fr. Innocent Umor was kidnapped in the Diocese of Idah, Kogi State, but he was released two days later.
Onaiyekan confirmed that during the past year, the church experienced many cases of abduction of Catholic priests, but added that they were released, except for two: “The vast majority of the priests who were kidnapped were released. We presently have the case of one priest who was kidnapped over a year ago, which we have no information about. And the kidnappers have never called for any ransom.
“We also have the case of the Vicar-General of Otukpo, who was kidnapped, he died in their hands and they dumped his body in the bush, but about three or four weeks later, his body was found.”
Daily Sun gathered that about 20 Catholic priests were kidnapped in various parts of the country in 2016 alone.
Attempts to get the Force Public Relations Officer, Don Awunah, an Acting Commissioner of Police, to speak on this disturbing trend proved abortive. He neither answered calls to his mobile phone nor responded to an SMS sent to him.