English Premier League club, Chelsea have declared its support for one of their own, Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel, whose father was abducted in Jos, Friday last week.
“We will give Mikel and his family our full support at this most difficult time,” Chelsea said on its website.
Mikel has played with Chelsea since 2006. He previously played for Nigerian Premier League club Plateau United, Nigeria’s Under-20 squad and Norwegian club Lyn Oslo.
Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. Plateau state, in Nigeria’s fertile central belt, has seen thousands die in recent years in religious and ethnic violence rooted largely in political and economic issues.
Mikel’s family, from the Igbo tribe, is in the minority in the area. However, Mikel said the kidnapping shocked him because his family never had any problems there before.
“I have always thought one day something like this can happen, but where my family lives is a very secure and safe place,” he said.
Kidnappings in Plateau state are a rarity when compared to Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, where militants and criminal gangs often kidnap foreigners for ransom. Middle class Nigerian families also increasingly find themselves targeted in the country’s East as well.
It isn’t the first time a soccer player’s family has been targeted in Nigeria. In 2008, gunmen abducted the younger brother of Everton defender Joseph Yobo as he left a nightclub in Port Harcourt, the delta’s largest city. The brother was released unharmed about two weeks later, though it was unclear if a ransom had been paid.
Michael Obi’s abduction comes after a Forbes magazine survey in June listed Mikel as the seventh highest-paid African player in Europe. The magazine listed Mikel’s salary as $5.8 million a year.