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Cash for Clergyman's Release

FILE - Nigerian naira notes are seen in this photo illustration. Photo taken March 15, 2016.

A clergyman of Nigeria's Methodist Church has revealed the church paid a ransom of nearly a quarter-million dollars for his release. The payment comes as Nigeria's president is expected to sign a bill punishing those who pay ransoms with up to 15 years in prison.

The prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Kanu-Uche, said the church paid about $240,000 as ransom to his abductors to secure his freedom and that of the two pastors travelling with him.

Eight armed men ambushed them on their way to the airport in Abia state on Sunday. However, the clergymen’s driver and one other church member escaped.

Abia State Archbishop Chibuzo Opoko said paying the ransom was necessary.

"They would not have released them if that was not done, it wasn't the security that intervened," he said. "How effective will that law be when security agencies are not doing their best? What is the law for those who kidnap and demand for ransom?”

Abductions of possibly thousands of persons have taken place in Nigeria over the past two years. UNICEF says that total includes at least 1,500 students taken hostage in north-central and northwestern Nigeria since late 2020.

To try to stop the rash of kidnappings, Nigeria's Senate recently approved a bill punishing those who pay ransoms with up to 15 years in jail. The measure would also impose the death sentence on kidnappers who cause abductees to die in captivity.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to say whether he will sign the bill into law, which rights groups and others are denouncing.

Abdulfatai Jimoh, a spokesperson for the families of passengers kidnapped from a train in Kaduna state in late March, said "It's an abnormal bill, abnormal in the sense that in a country where such a bill can exist should be a country that has a law in place that when anybody is kidnapped, that person must be rescued within 48 hours."

He added "Without anything like that in place there's no way they can stop anybody from paying ransom."