'Traumatised' pastor suffers panic attacks following release from ISWAP captivity

Emaciated, aged and sick-looking, Rev. Polycarp Zongo, a central Nigerian pastor kidnapped by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) last October, arrived in his hometown Jos, Plateau State, on Friday 19 June 2021, three days after being freed. The trauma of being held captive for nearly eight months still gives him panic attacks, officials say.


"For now, we consider it imperative to isolate him and put him through proper rehabilitation before allowing him to make public appearances," said Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) president Rev. Prof. Dacholom Datiri on Sunday. 


Addressing the visibly anxious congregation of Zongo's church - COCIN Wild Life Park, Jos, through Rev. Ripji Merkuk, COCIN Director, Evangelism and Missions – Datiri said the kidnapped pastor had been through 'a lot'. "He tries to look strong but you can see traces of panic, you can see the trauma in him," the church leader said.


During fellowship in COCIN Garki, Abuja, a day after his release, a tearful Zongo said he was still having nightmares from his experiences in the terrorists' den. 


"We'd see drones, we'd see planes, we'd see jets, we'd see helicopters...they come and drop fire very close, and sometimes you feel as if you are going to die. So I heard a sound and started being scared, then later I understood that no, I am back home. I am part of a world which has people, who have people's hearts, not hearts that I cannot describe," he recalled.



Kidnappings of Christians

Zongo was invited to give a talk at a Church Conference in Gombe on 19 October 2020, but on his way there the Islamic terrorists captured him along with two others. Earlier in the year, ISWAP executed a Christian student from Plateau State - Ropvil Daciya Dalep.


Ropvil, an undergraduate of the University of Maiduguri, was kidnapped on 19 January along with a female colleague, Lilian Gyang, who is currently still in captivity. A widely circulated video shows Ropvil being executed by the terrorists who said they were avenging the deaths of their Muslim brothers in Plateau State.


A similar video released on 22 September 2019 shows terrorists wielding AK-47 rifles executing Christian aid workers - Lawrence Dacighir and Gedfrey Ali Shikagham as the start of “revenge on Christians in Plateau State”. Both men were from Plateau, and members of COCIN.


Thus, when Rev. Zongo was kidnapped, his chances of survival appeared very slim. Particularly so since prior to executing the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa, Rev. Lawan Andimi, on 20 January 2020, the Shekau faction of Boko Haram had demanded £2 million in ransom and rejected an offer of N50 million (approximately £105,162). 


According to Datiri, the terrorists had demanded impossible sums in ransom for Zongo's release. "What they are demanding, even in a year, COCIN will not be able to pay," Datiri told the COCIN General Church Council meeting last November. But Zongo faced an additional threat to his survival. He was reported be battling ill health before his abduction. 


"Daily prayer sessions"

When a video of Zongo was released a week later, confirming his kidnap, the church's intercessory arm began daily prayer sessions for his freedom. COCIN also held a three-day prayer and fasting exercise across its over 1,000 branches in Nigeria and beyond. Christians in different parts of the world took part. "The Church in Brazil is praying as well," Brazilian Pastor John Santos commented on Zongo's ISWAP video on YouTube.


"It is the prayer of the saints all over the world that has manifested in the release of Rev. Zongo, and this is a call to never stop praying," said Coordinator of the COCIN Prayer and Revival Unit Rev. Ezekiel Dachomo. 


Several attempts to hold dialogue with the terrorists failed, said Rev. John Pofi, the Founder of John Pofi foundation, a leading partner in the negotiation for Zongo's release. "Many times we felt like giving up. We faced opposition from all angles but we had to keep praying, and trusting God that He will do a miracle," Pofi told our correspondent. 


"Still in captivity"

At least four Plateau Christians are still held hostage by the terrorists, Pofi said. "We didn't know this until we started working to secure the release of Zongo," he said. One of them, Deborah Dalyop, an aid worker kidnapped mid March 2021 in Dikwa, Borno State along with soldiers and colleagues was freed with Zongo, Pofi said. "But others including Lilian Gyang are still there with many other Christians from different parts of Nigeria," said the cleric.


In January 2020, Jennifer Ukambong Samuel, another Christian aid worker from Plateau kidnapped by ISWAP, said Alice Loksha Ngaddah, Grace Taku and Leah Sharibu kidnapped before her pleaded for more prayers when she met them. "They have been sold to slavery but they are still trusting God for a miracle," Jennifer told our correspondent.


Alice, renamed Halima (Arabic name) according to Jennifer, was a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) medical worker when she was abducted in 2018. She was among many kidnapped by the terrorists who attacked Rann community in Borno State on 1 March 2018, killing at least four soldiers, policemen and three humanitarian workers. Leah Sharibu was the only Christian among the 110 Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped from Yobe State by Boko Haram on 19 February 2018.


Grace Taku, an aid worker kidnapped by Boko Haram on 18 July 2019, had in same month claimed in a video released by the insurgents that Leah Sharibu and Alice had been killed over the federal government’s inability to “do something”. But analysts believe she was forced by the terrorists to say so, to compel compliance with their demands. Jennifer's account also confirmed that the two were alive.