“Our brother’s blood set us free”. Two Nigerian seminarians recall their captivity at the hands of kidnappers

Pius Tabat and Stephen Amos were kidnapped, along with two other seminarians, in Nigeria on 8 January, 2020. For several days they were kept in captivity and tortured while their captors tried to extract ransoms from their families. One of the members of the group, Michael Nnadi, was murdered for preaching the Gospel to one of his kidnappers.

During an online conference organised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), held on 8 March 2023, Pius and Stephen recalled those difficult days in their own words.

We had retired for the night when we were awoken by gunshots, not knowing what was happening. When we reached the door, a gun was pointed at our heads. The gunman took our phones, gadgets and valuables and asked us to go out They took us over the fence and moved us from the site so that we would not be seen by the security forces. We went into the bush that very night.

We walked for three to four hours, not knowing where we were going. At a certain point they made us climb onto their motorcycles and we rode for another hour, arriving in the early hours of the morning.

Testimony seminarians in Nigeria
Seminarians Pius Tabat and Stephen Amos at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos

They made us lie in a tent, on the bare ground with another seven or eight people. There were about 12 of us squeezed into the tent, in January, in the cold.

They called us later to communicate with our parents, to inform them we had been kidnapped. They beat us during those phone calls. We were crying with the tension, while our parents listened over the phone. This routine continued for about two weeks. Every time we made the call, they beat us.

For most of the day we sat blindfolded under a tree. We could not lie down, our backs hurt, but there was nothing we could do, and we continued to be beaten, on our heads, back, or any other part of our body, every day, with no pity. We would be sitting and the next thing we felt a stick to the back of our necks.

Our kidnappers were Fulani herdsmen, they spoke the Fulani language. We cannot say what their motive was, but the people we met in captivity were mostly Christians, so it is not out of place to say it is mostly an attack on our Christian faith. Muslim places of worship or leaders are never attacked in our area, so it seems that we were targeted for our Catholic faith.

By the rivers of Babylon

In the evening, as we returned to the tent, they would tell us to moan like cows, or cry like goats for their amusement. Other times we would be told to sing songs we normally sang in church, or to dance for them. While singing and dancing blindfolded, we continued to be beaten. We were reminded of Psalm 137:

There our captors asked us for songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

they said, “Sing for us one of the songs of Zion!”

We were fed rice and oil, which we ate from a very dirty container. It was the same one they used to get fuel for their motorbikes, and the same we used to drink water from the stream, we could see and smell the oil, but we did not have a choice. Sometimes we ate once in a day, very few times twice. We never changed our clothes.

One of our brothers fell very ill, almost at the point of death. They took him and left him by the wayside, and told somebody to go and pick him up. Fortunately, he survived.

Testimony seminarians in Nigeria
Seminarians of the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in a procession

The longest night

When there were three of us left we organised ourselves so that each day one of us would lead the others in praying a novena and say some words of encouragement. Michael was the third, but he was killed on the second day of his turn.

During those days one of the kidnappers started asking questions, and Michael tried to explain our Christian faith to him. It got to a point where he asked to be taught the “Our Father”, and Michael taught him.

It may have gotten out that this is what was happening, or the boy himself told them. We were sitting there blindfolded and they came and fetched him. We thought he was going to be released, that it was good news, but little did we know he was going to be killed that day.

Later that night, the leader of the gang told us that they had killed our brother, and that if they were not paid by the following morning, they would kill us as well. That was one of the longest nights of our life. In the morning they called us and gave us our cell phones to call our parents to say goodbye before they killed us. We did so and went back to our tents, leaving our lives in God’s hands. But we were not killed that day.

The price of freedom

Three days later they told us we were going to be released. It sounded too good to be true. After so many days in captivity, so much pain, dehumanisation, beatings, we were going to be free.

They drove us on their bikes to an abandoned settlement. They dropped us there and told us to walk until we found a man who would be taking us back to the seminary.

When they left, we felt the freshness of the air again, we were free. We found the man and he took us to the school on his bike.

Testimony seminarians in Nigeria
The Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna

At this time, we still had hope that Michael was alive and safe, but the seminary was also hoping that he was with us. Our superiors made contact with the kidnappers and were told where to find his remains. That was when it dawned on us that he was martyred in cold blood, his only crime was being a Christian and a Catholic seminarian.

We do not believe it is a coincidence that we were released four days after he was killed. It was like his blood set us free, he paid the price for our freedom.

We were taken to the Catholic hospital for immediate treatment, and stayed for about a week. We met with our brother who had been released earlier on, and who was recovering well, and after we had recovered we returned to our various dioceses, where we were told to prepare to continue with our formation, here in the seminary where we are now.

Our families were happy to see us and gave thanks to God for our release. When they learned of our decision to continue with our formation there were no recriminations, and they did not try to stop us. We were actually encouraged by all that happened. If God had saved us from this situation, then he has a lot in store for us, there are things waiting for us in this path we have taken, so we were encouraged to stick to our vocation.

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference is studying the possibility of presenting Michael as a “Martyr of Nigeria” in the near future, but meanwhile, in the Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Kukah and the faithful he serves want to set in motion an initiative to encourage and deepen the faith of grieving Christians by building a place where the suffering people can bring their pain, their prayers and find healing in God’s merciful love: “It is truly the fulfilment of the dictum that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Christian faith”.

With the help of ACN benefactors, the faithful will be able to gather at this Eucharistic Adoration Centre in Malumfashi, Katsina State, in Sokoto Diocese, built to honour those who died for the sake of their Christian faith, at the hands of extremists.

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