John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigerian Archbishop Kidnapped, Freed

by John Campbell
December 27, 2013

Nigerian policemen await the arrival of Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro in Port Harcourt, July 6, 2007 (Austin Ekeinde/Courtesy) Nigerian policemen await the arrival of Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro in Port Harcourt, July 6, 2007 (Austin Ekeinde/Courtesy)

Peter Akinola, retired primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and his driver were kidnapped the day before Christmas as he drove away from his office in Abeokeuta, Ogun state (in Yorubaland). Some reports–but not others–say his daughter was also kidnapped. There are other contradictions and inconsistencies in the details of the episode in the press reports.

They were freed unharmed shortly thereafter when the archbishop convinced his captors that as a retired clergyman, he had no money to pay ransom. Though the archbishop was unharmed, the circumstances remind us that kidnapping can be brutal. The archbishop–who is almost seventy years old–was according to one report forced to lay on the ground. When he and his party were released, they were dumped on the side of the road and had to make their way through dense bush until the police found them.

Even though the archbishop has been one of the most powerful religious leaders in the country, and is one of the Nigerians best known outside of Nigeria, the kidnapping appears to have had no political or “terrorist” dimension. It looks like it was solely a criminal act with the goal of collecting a ransom. Another Anglican archbishop was kidnapped in September 2013, and an Anglican bishop was kidnapped in January 2010 and another in September 2010. Up to now, the Church of Nigeria has avoided publicizing the kidnapping of senior clerics in hopes of avoiding copy-cat episodes. It is unknown whether ransoms have ever been paid. But, many other prominent people and their relatives are kidnapped almost on a regular basis. The criteria for victim selection appears to be the perceived ability to pay ransom. One notable victim was the elderly mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Others have included elderly relatives of governors, traditional rulers, and business people, especially if they do not have bodyguards. The motives appear almost always to be ransom, not political.

Before he retired, Archbishop Akinola was the primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, with perhaps twenty million communicants, probably the largest Christian denomination in Nigeria, and the second largest part of the world-wide Anglican Communion (after the Church of England). The archbishop was also the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, a powerful interdenominational advocacy group. He is a leader of Christianity in the Global South; in 2006 Time Magazine included him in its list of the hundred most important people in the world, in the category of “Leaders and Revolutionaries.” A low-church evangelical, he is a social conservative and strongly opposed to gay rights. He organized the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) for dissident Episcopalians after the Episcopal Church (the branch of Anglicanism in the United States) ordained an openly gay bishop.

Kidnapping is not usually political, but it has a political consequence. The Nigerian government’s inability to suppress it contributes to the lack of confidence many Nigerians have in their institutions of government.

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