‘I am prepared to die a martyr’: Freed Nigerian monk recounts kidnapping, murder of brother monk — By: Catholic News Agency

Brother Godwin Eze. / Credit: Benedictine Monastery, Eruku

ACI Africa, Nov 30, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Brother Peter Olarewaju recently recounted the horrific kidnapping and torture he and two other monks from a Benedictine monastery in Nigeria underwent, including the murder of one of the monks.

Brother Godwin Eze spent his final hours encouraging his brother monks before he was singled out, shot, and his body thrown in a fast-flowing river.

Eze was kidnapped Oct. 17 alongside Olarewaju and Brother Anthony Eze from the Benedictine monastery in Eruku in the Ilorin Diocese, tortured, and later killed. Unable to find the murdered monk’s body after days of searching along the river where it was thrown, the monastery performed his funeral rites at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Ilorin on Nov. 22.

In one of the gestures that Olarewaju said will be stuck with him forever, Eze is said to have fed his two companions biscuits when the kidnappers allowed them to eat after making them trek barefooted for hours on empty stomachs.

With one free hand, Eze fed the two whose sore hands remained tied behind their backs.

“The men who kidnapped us gave us two biscuits while keeping our hands tied. They momentarily loosened Brother Godwin’s hand to allow him to feed us. I remember him holding up the biscuits for each of us to take a bite in turns. I will never forget the love and reassurance in his eyes when he fed us,” Olarewaju told ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa.

Olarewaju spoke to ACI Africa on Nov. 26, a few days after he was discharged from the hospital where he had been admitted in critical condition.

Frail and with deep wounds on his body from being flogged daily while he was held captive, Olarewaju had slumped into the arms of his brother monks who carried him from the monastery to the hospital. There, he was given 30 injections before he came around and was allowed a few more days to recuperate in a wheelchair.

“We were in very bad shape when the kidnappers finally set us free. One more day with them and we would surely have died,” Olarewaju said.

Kidnapped at night

The monk gave ACI Africa a detailed day-by-day account of what transpired from the moment armed men broke into their monastery in Eruku and took the three of them away.

He said that nine men carrying AK-47 guns, machetes, and other weapons arrived at the monastery at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 17 as the brothers were sleeping. Later, the monks would discover that one of the men was a farmer who had been kidnapped from elsewhere and forced to lead the suspected Fulani men to the monastery. The man’s family would later successfully negotiate for his release ahead of the monks.

“I heard strange voices. At first I thought it was my brothers waking up because we normally wake up very early to pray. But listening keenly, I couldn’t recognize the voices. Something told me it was Boko Haram and so I made an attempt to run out of the room,” Olarewaju recalled.

“I quickly abandoned the idea to run as I felt the men’s presence in our room,” he continued. “Instead, I slid under the bed and hid there for a while. I heard them rough up my roommate Anthony, who shouted ‘Jesus!’”

Olarewaju said the men ransacked the room and found him hiding under the bed. They took him and the roommates joined two other monks, including Eze, who along with another monk, Benjamin, was already outside the house kneeling, their hands tied behind their backs.

Asked to surrender their phones, Eze is said to have calmly confessed that their devices were with Oga, the monastery’s novice master.

“I was scared for our novice master and so I quickly offered to give them my phone,” Olarewaju said. The men then led him by the gun’s barrel back to his room, where he surrendered his phone and the novice master’s phone number.

The gang leader then asked the monks who among them could speak Hausa, one of the Nigerian native languages. 

“Brother Benjamin raised his hand, thinking that the men wanted someone to offer them translation services. To his shock, he was given a hot slap across his face. In fact, it was so bad that he is still being treated for it as we speak. It then occurred to us that the men didn’t want anyone that could follow their conversations in Hausa after they took us away,” Olarewaju said. Benjamin was kicked out of the group following the ordeal.

The other three — Olarewaju, Eze, and Anthony Eze — who didn’t speak Hausa, were led away, embarking on a five-day journey of flogging, starvation, and long hours of walking barefoot in marshes, through thorns and rocky grounds, up mountains, and down valleys.

“They strategically put us in a straight line with one of their men separating us. Our hands were tied behind our backs for the entire five days until we were released on Oct. 21,” Olarewaju said, adding that Eze walked in front of his two companions.

“The kidnappers were very well coordinated. They would send two ordinarily dressed men out in the day to survey the landscape and find the routes we would use during the night. When night fell, they would set us in motion, making us walk very long hours,” Olarewaju recalled. “We were not allowed to complain as they would hit us with machetes, gun barrels, and large pieces of wood. At daybreak, they pushed us in the bushes [and] made us sit out in the open while they surrounded us. Sometimes, we were rained on while they made a fire for themselves away from us.”

The kidnappers had demanded 150 million naira (about $190,000) when they called the monastery a few hours after they took Olarewaju and his companions. The amount, Olarewaju said, was too large for the monastery.

Whenever the ransom negotiations went south, the kidnappers turned to the three monks with their weapons to steam off.

“They took turns to hit us. There is no place on our bodies they didn’t hit us. We tried our best to hide our eyes from the beating. We cried until our voices became hoarse,” Olarewaju said. “I lack words to describe those men. To me, they have lost every sense of humanity. Something else is living in them.”

Sometimes, the men would steal yams from people’s farms and prepare meals for themselves. Monks were made to carry the heavy loads of yams and not given any to eat. 

One night, they were made to lie down under a large tree as it rained. “Unknown to us, we were made to lie in an ants’ nest,” Olarewaju recounted. “The insects bit us and since our bodies were numb, we only noticed the swelling in the morning.”

By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the three were faint from hunger and no amount of beating could make them move.

“I think our kidnappers thought that we were going to die before they could collect the ransom. One of them brought out six pieces of biscuits and untied Godwin to feed us,” he said.

On the way, the men smoked all kinds of substances, Olarewaju said. “They would pick some leaves, crush them and make them into big rolls, which they kept smoking. At no given point were their lips free from the smoke.”

Worse day of his life

Eze was killed on Oct. 18 at night. As usual, he was walking ahead of Olarewaju and Anthony Eze in the dark.

“I heard Godwin cry out in a very loud voice. One of the men flashed a torch light and I could see my brother standing in a pool of his blood. A big piece of wood had torn through his ankle, baring his flesh. As he struggled to remove the piece of wood from his leg with his hands tied behind his back, he stumbled and fell into a large pit,” Olarewaju said.

Badly injured, Eze could not walk again. This aggravated the kidnappers’ anger given that their negotiations for ransom were not going as they wanted.

“That night, the beating was worse than the previous occasions. The men had kept threatening us that they were going to kill us. That night, we knew they were going to make good their threats” Olarewaju said. “I heard one of the men cock their guns. I said a prayer: ‘Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.’ A shot was fired. It was Godwin that they shot.”

Olarewaju described the killing of Eze as the worst day of his life.

“Anthony and I were so mad. We screamed at the men, begging them to kill us. We couldn’t take the torture anymore,” he said.

Eze was murdered on the edge of a fast flowing river. His two companions were then forced to throw his body into the river. 

“We tried our best to refuse amid the beating they gave us,” Olarewaju recalled. “After a while, we signaled each other, held the body of our brother Godwin by the arm and leg, and tried to jump into the river with the body. Anthony jumped in first but was quickly pulled out. After that, he received a thorough beating for it.”

“I couldn’t sleep on the day that my brother Godwin was killed. The men promised to kill me on Thursday and to kill Anthony on Friday unless they received money from our families who they had roped into their evil negotiations,” Olarewaju said, adding that the men had dozens of mobile phones and a solar panel that kept their communication with the monastery flowing.

Asked what kept them going, Olarewaju said: “We stuck to our prayers. In fact, it was Bother Godwin’s idea that we continue with our mental prayers. We would signal each other to pray silently since the men didn’t want to hear the mention of the name ‘Jesus.’”

The Benedictine monastery is located in Kwara state, which is bordered by Kogi and Niger states. By Oct.  21, Olarewaju and Anthony Eze had walked up to the Kogi border, miles away from their community. As they approached Kogi, the negotiations between their abductors and their monastery had a breakthrough and they were released.

“We were in a very bad shape,” Olarewaju said. “I could look at brother Anthony and see that he was on the verge of death.”

“I remember taking the back seat on the bus since I was smelling very bad. I hadn’t brushed my teeth for five days. I hadn’t taken a bath and definitely, I hadn’t had a change of clothes,” he said.

Olarewaju said the October ordeal at the hands of his kidnappers has strengthened his faith. 

Prepared to die a martyr

“I joined the monastery hoping to make it to heaven,” he stated. “After my kidnapping and the horrors I encountered, it has become clear to me that I want something more. I am prepared to die a martyr in this dangerous country. I am ready anytime to die for Jesus. I feel this very strongly.”

The monk said he has fond memories of Eze, who has also been described as easygoing and prayerful.

“Brother Godwin was my senior in the monastery. He guided me on many occasions,” Olarewaju recalled. “I sometimes sat next to him in the oratory and he would help me open the prayer book. Some days, as I fumbled with the prayer book, he would sense my struggles and give me his already opened book. He would then take mine and quickly open the page and join the rest of us in the praying or singing. He was that loving and caring. I have no doubt that brother Godwin is in heaven.”

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Read More