Benue State in central Nigeria is still not out of the insecurity wood as a Reverend Father has fallen into the hands of unknown persons. Rev. Fr Stephen Echioda Ocholongwa was kidnapped March 1st, 2020, the same day Catholic Bishops were on the streets of Abuja making a collective statement to the federal authorities for guarantee of security for Christians.
Up till the time of reporting, the suspected kidnappers have not called anybody for ransom, a development that might not be unconnected with a hot pursuit that the state government has mounted and which could have left them breathless. Intervention learnt that Engineer Benson Abounu, the Deputy-Governor has sent no less than two different contingents of crack policemen.
The Rev Fr was kidnapped between Adankari and Akwete junction, along Akpa-Utonkon Road, Otukpo LGA, Benue State by 10:20 p.m. He was on his way back from Igumale where he went on a priestly duty. Igumale, it is understood, falls within Akpa in Otukpo LGA of the State in terms of the Diocesan structure.
It is difficult to speculate why he might have been kidnapped. He is certainly not the most vocal or activist of the priests in area and is not connected with any wealth that might attract ransom seekers.
Members of the vigilante group which enforce security in much of Benue State Vigilante were at the scene of the kidnap for a long time thereafter. The police returned to the scene this morning and mounted check point while some of the police men entered the bush path used by the criminals. How far they went and what hints they uncovered are unknown.
Although the Police refused taking of pictures, it was understood that the kidnappers wasted several bullets as evident by the number of empty shells of bullet found at the scene.
Also at the scene this morning is Rev.Fr. John Ogoyi, the parish priest of St Fidelis Parish, Allan in Akpa and under whom the kidnapped priest works. Fr Ogoyi was working with the police, waiting for toying van to move the car from which Fr Ocholongwa was taken away.
A number of community leaders, especially of the Akpa Community Development Association, (ACDA) are coordinating the search for the kidnapped Rev Fr with the Benue State Deputy-Governor’s office.
Benue State has been in insecurity turmoil since April 2016 with the January 2018 killing of about 100 persons as the climax of what is generally perceived to be Fulani herdsmen’s attempt to gain a military foothold in the area. The Federal Government does not think so but that is the widely circulated narrative of the generalised insecurity that has enveloped Nigeria.