Kidnapping of prominent persons for ransom is so common in southern Nigeria that according to the Economist, the press largely ignores it unless the victim is especially prominent. Last year, the mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was kidnapped and released allegedly upon payment of a ransom. In September of this year, the Anglican archbishop of the Niger Delta Province of the Anglian Communion, Ignatus Kattey and his wife were kidnapped in oil-rich Rivers State; she was quickly released, but he was held for nine days. The archbishop told the press that he did not know if a ransom was paid. The police are claiming credit for his release, but the archbishop is emphatic: “The police did not rescue me. They were not the ones who rescued my wife, Beatrice… The police are telling lies, if you cannot trust the police again, then who can you trust? I told the commissioner of police and he has apologized.”
The archbishop is generally regarded as being the second highest ranking prelate in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), itself the largest Christian denomination in the country. While the archbishop was being held, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England and world-wide spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, asked for prayers.
Archbishop Kattey is one of the most prominent clerics in Nigeria. Rivers State and the Niger Delta region is almost entirely Christian, with only small pockets of Muslims.
The archbishop describes his captivity as an ordeal: the kidnappers gave him one meal a day, no opportunity to bathe, and forced him to sleep on wet ground in his cassock. Kidnappers do not respect age. The mother of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is in her eighties, while the archbishop is sixty-five.
Rivers State is part of Nigeria’s oil patch and is the site of oil theft and periodic insurgency against the federal government. Nevertheless, there is as yet no evidence that his kidnapping had any political dimension. But, it has political consequences. That an archbishop can be kidnapped heightens a general sense of insecurity. That the police claim to have secured the release of the archbishop, which is apparently false, also undermines their own credibility.