Kidnapped Catholic priest in Nigeria is found killed

Open DoorsA Nigerian Christian prays in church. Nigeria is ranked 12th on a new list of countries where Christians face the most persecution.

A Catholic priest in Nigeria, who was kidnapped on Friday morning, has been found murdered.

Fr Cyriacus Onunkwo was taken from his vehicle in the town of Orlu, in the state of Imo in the southeast of the country.

The priest's body was discovered on Saturday in the neighboring village of Omuma.

The state commissioner of police, Chris Ezike, told the local newspaper Vanguard: 'Although we are working on all leads over the matter, [for] now, it is a clear case of abduction and murder. If it was a case of kidnapping, his captives would have put a call across to anybody close to their victim and made a demand.'

The police said that no arrests have so far been made. They found the priest's car, and said nothing had been taken.

The diocese of Orlu is 70 per cent Catholic and unlike the Muslim-majority north of the country, where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram threatens the Christian community, the southeast of the country is predominantly Christian.

However, the region is plagued by government corruption and violence, with armed gangs roaming the region, and regular kidnappings for ransom. Imo state has one of the highest crime rates in the country, according to the Catholic news website Crux.

In September 2016, the Nigerian Bishops' Conference issued a statement calling on the government to do more to tackle rising crime.

'Political violence, corruption, kidnappings, armed robbery, ritual murders and all ills of the past, are still very much present and we seem to be progressively sinking deeper into the mud. Our people are now ravaged by disease and hunger,' the statement said. 'The result is the rise in the curve of violence both by the state agents and non-state actors among our own people.'

Onunkwo is the second Catholic priest to be murdered in Nigeria this summer. In July, Fr Raphael Pankyes was killed by three men in Plateau State in the centre of the country.

A member of the priest's family told local media that he was returning home to organise the funeral of his father when he was kidnapped at gunpoint.

He said: 'The priest, Rev. Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo, who hailed from Osina, in the Ideato North LGA, and worked in Orlu ... was on a mission. He came home to prepare for the burial of his father, who died last week.'