A Nigerian priest who was kidnapped earlier this month by Fulani militants has voiced gratitude to the Fulani community that rescued him.
Fr. Andrew Anana, a 49-year-old priest who serves at St. Francis Xavier Godogodo Parish in the north Nigerian Diocese of Kafanchan, is receiving treatment for injuries sustained after being kidnapped from his parish on the night of November 3.
Anana told The Pillar that he was already in bed, around 9:30 p.m., when he heard an unusual noise in the compound.
“I checked but I did not see anybody outside,” he said.
The priest said he went back to sleep, but was awakened shortly before midnight by a banging on the door.
Realizing that someone was trying to break down the door, he began shouting for help. But no one heard him at that late hour, and a group of four Fulani gunmen forced him from the house.
After walking more than two hours through the bush, his captors stopped and told him he must pay them ₦ 50,000,000 (about $62,000 USD) to be freed.
“I pleaded that I can’t afford that, but they insisted that I have friends abroad - that I should contact them to send the money,” the priest said. “I told them I don’t have anybody abroad.”
Anana tried to negotiate, asking if the kidnappers would accept ₦ 1,500,000 (about $1,850 USD). In response, they handed him a phone and told him to call someone to bring the ransom money.
The priest said he called his parish chairman and asked if he could raise ₦ 1,500,000. The chairman begged the captors to reduce the amount, but they only told him they were raising the ransom to ₦ 10,000,000 (about $12,500 USD), then threatened to kill Anana and hung up.
Anana said he managed to negotiate the amount down to ₦ 4,000,000 (about $5,000 USD). He said the abductors then blindfolded him and beat him severely, undressing him and slashing him repeatedly with sticks and a machete.
Then, Anana said, a Fulani woman who had come to fetch water at a nearby stream heard him wailing.
“She immediately ran back to tell her husband, who alerted the community,” he said.
The priest explained that a Fulani woman from her community had also been kidnapped overnight, and their community was on high alert.
“When the woman told them that she heard noises in a certain direction, they surrounded the whole place,” he recounted.
One man then went into the forest on a motorcycle. He saw the gunmen with Anana and approached them with a friendly greeting.
“They told him that they were just about their normal business,” Anana said. “He advised them to be careful and wished them well. Meanwhile, they asked him if there was any problem, and he said no. He took his motorcycle and left.”
As soon as the man was gone, the four gunmen decided to change location.
“As we were coming out of the forest, a colony of Fulani youths from the community started shouting, ‘Thieves! Thieves!’,” he said. “They cordoned the bush, strategized and started making phone calls.”
At this, the priest recounted, the kidnappers fled back into the bush. Anana said he raised his hands and told them he had been abducted by the gunmen.
The Fulani community then took him back to their settlement. Some of them followed the kidnappers and were able to detain two of them and bring them to the police, who arrested them.
Anana remained at the Fulani settlement for about two hours, until a police vehicle arrived to transport him home.
“They gave me food, soft drinks, biscuits, and were consoling me. They said I should not worry, assuring me that I was safe.”
The priests said his rescuers told him that “it is because of criminals like these that people stereotype the Fulani race – everywhere we go, people abuse us and think that we are all criminals.”
They said they are “resolved to expose any Fulani who is involved in criminal activities,” he added.
As Anana recovers from his ordeal, his parish is celebrating his safe return.
Fr. Emmauel Faweh, the rector of the nearby St. Albert’s Institute, said Anana is a dearly beloved priest, esteemed by not only local Catholics, but evangelicals and Muslims as well.
The entire local community - members of all religions - were distressed by news of the kidnapping, he said, and they now rejoice to hear of Anana’s escape.
“I think the act of valor by these good Fulani herdsmen calls for sober reflection,” he said.
Faweh, who is also vicar general of the Kafanchan diocese, told The Pillar that he hopes law enforcement agencies will pursue the two remaining kidnappers, and will partner with cooperative Fulani herdsman to gather intelligence about those engaged in criminal activity.
Kidnapping and other acts of violence against Christians have become particularly common in the northern part of the country, where both Boko Haram militants and Fulani herdsmen have carried out attacks, often with impunity.
This is not the first time Anana has been kidnapped from his parish. He was previously abducted in July 2021, but managed to escape. He said he suspects the captors were the same group of men that abducted him this month.
Thirty priests were kidnapped in Nigeria in 2022, while at least 40 were killed in the same year. A number of priests are currently missing in the country, following kidnappings several months ago.
Earlier this year, Fr. Stephen Ojapah, a Nigerian priest who was held captive for 33 days in 2022, launched an organization to help Nigerians receive mental health care to cope with the trauma of terrorism in their country.
Ojapah said his own month-long experience of being kidnapped left him “with deep trauma.” Many kidnapping victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and need serious aid.
A year after gaining his freedom, the 39-year-old priest is now working to build O-Trauma Victims Initiative (OTVI), which offers medical care, trauma counseling, and legal aid to victims of kidnapping in Nigeria. It also provides vocational training and economic programs to help kidnapping victims recover financially.