Rome Newsroom, Dec 16, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A priest of the Congregation of Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy was kidnapped in Nigeria Tuesday while traveling to his father’s funeral.

Fr. Valentine Ezeagu was driving in the southeastern Imo state of Nigeria Dec. 15 when four armed men came out from the bush and forced him to the back of his car and sped off, a statement from the priest’s religious congregation said, citing an eyewitness from the road.

The priest was en route to his home village in Anambra state, where his father’s funeral Mass is scheduled to be held on Dec. 17.

His religious congregation is calling for “fervent prayers for his immediate release.”

Fr. Ezeagu’s abduction comes after the kidnapping last week of hundreds of schoolboys in the northwestern Nigerian state of Katsina. On Dec. 15, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack on the school from which 300 students remain missing.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja decried the high rate of kidnappings and deaths in Nigeria, calling for the government to take more security measures.

“The incidents of killings and kidnapping currently going on in Nigeria is now posing a significant threat to all the citizens,” he said in a facebook post Dec. 15.

“Right now, insecurity is the greatest challenge facing the nation. The level of incidents and the apparent impunity have become unacceptable and cannot be excused, for whatever reason,” he said.

The archbishop stressed that the Nigerian government’s primary responsibility enshrined in its constitution was the “protection of lives and property of its citizens irrespective of ethnic and/or religious persuasion.”

In 2020, at least eight priests and seminarians have been kidnapped in Nigeria, including 18-year-old seminarian Michael Nnadi, who was killed after gunmen kidnapped himself and three other seminarians in an attack on Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna.

Kaigama noted that “victims of ideologically motivated kidnappings face a higher threat of death and may experience longer times in captivity.”

“Boko Haram violence, kidnappings and banditry represent gross violations of human rights. It is important to pay attention to all the stages, processes and trends of the occurrences because they are interrelated. Structural injustices meted out to youths and minority groups are appalling, and if unchecked may lead us to a point of no return,” he said.

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