By Masara Kim
President Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide broadcast on 16 February may have eased Nigeria's nationwide cash crisis.
But in Katsina State in majority-Muslim northwestern Nigeria, a group of Christians is still struggling to raise money to pay ransom for 26 women and two infants from their church who were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists during Sunday service on 15 January.
The terrorists have demanded a 50 million naira ($109,000) ransom to free the abductees, who were taken from the Global Mission Church in Gidan Haruna village located 20 miles northwest of Kankara local government area.
As of 17 February, the village's 50 to 60 Christian residents have all fled after they were again attacked by terrorists, who were apparently angered by their offer of a N800,000 ransom they managed to raise from selling stored food crops.
No lives were lost, but the terrorists kidnapped four more residents, whom they later released unconditionally after realizing they were Muslims.
Repeated attacks on the church
The sustained attacks in recent months targeting Christians in the area are seen by some as an attempt to wipe out the minority Christians in Katsina State.
Residents say the 15 January attack occurred after several failed attempts by terrorists, who identify as Muslims from the Fulani ethnicity, to kidnap the 50-member congregation of the Global Mission Church located on the western edge of the village.
Halfway into the service, minutes before 10 o’clock, a convoy of eight motorcycles carrying two armed terrorists each swarmed into the village and encircled the church, according to Saidu Ahmadu, who was among the few worshippers that managed to escape. Another fleet of 12 motorcycles was stationed in the road out of the village, apparently to ward off any intervention, he said.
“They were shooting and shouting Allahu Akhbar [God is great],” Ahmadu recalled in an interview.
“They blocked the two entrances of the church with their bikes and ordered everyone to lie down,” said Ahmadu who explained that he escaped along with other worshippers through a narrow window.
From his hideout, Ahmadu saw the terrorists ferry the remaining 28 worshippers on their bikes to the western forest from where they had come. Twenty-six of the hostages were adult women, including Ahmadu’s wife and sister-in-law. The other two were infants – a boy and a girl.
At least one person was hit by bullets.
“We were helpless. No security came until the terrorists had left,” Ahmadu said.
Father shot, wife and child abducted
At the time of the attack, Tijjani Isiaku, 35, a Christian native of the village, was 562 miles away in Benin City, where he works as a labourer on a construction site. Isiaku was attending a service at a local church when he received a phone call informing him of the attack.
Isiaku was told the terrorists shot his father, Isiaku Haruna, before escaping with the hostages, including his wife, his two-year-old son and four other family members. In disbelief, Isiaku dialed his wife’s phone number but was answered by an angry male voice.
“He said we have kidnapped your women,” narrated Isiaku in a telephone interview. “I was crying and begging him but he warned me not to call the number again before switching off the phone.”
Katsina police in a statement claimed they were on the trail of the attackers but gave a much lower figure of seven hostages. State police spokesman Superintendent Gambo Isah said, “Efforts are being made with a view to arresting the hoodlums.”
He admitted, “The divisional police officer in charge of Kankara led a team of policemen to the village but before his arrival, the terrorists had already escaped with the victims.”
The mass abduction follows a series of related attacks in the south of Katsina by Islamic terrorists from the Fulani ethnic group. In recent years, Fulani extremists have been blamed for thousands of deaths in Nigeria.
The so-called bandit attacks in the south of Katsina often target the minority Christian residents, according to Lado Kambai, a Christian journalist in Kankara.
“Even the Muslims acknowledge it,” said Kambai in a telephone interview. “I met a Muslim resident in Gidan Haruna village and he told me he was feeling pity for the local Christians. And truly when you go there, you will see the Muslims living freely while the Christians live in fear and sorrow.”
Hours after the kidnap of the worshippers in Gidan Haruna, a female Muslim resident who was kidnapped on the same day from a nearby village was released, said Kambai.
“That is what always happens here. When they kidnap a group of people, they always separate out the Muslims and either free them without any ransom or else for very little ransom. But no Christian hostage, no matter how poor, ever gets released without paying millions of naira in ransom,” he said.
Ayuba Yusuf, 31, a resident of the nearby village of Gawar Kaza, told our correspondent that his uncle – Rev. Bature Momoh - was abducted on 3 November 2022 and held for seven weeks before being released for a N5 million ransom.
Momoh, the pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Gawar Kaza, was kidnapped by terrorists who killed five residents and injured Yusuf and another uncle of his, Garba Danlami.
“That was one of many incidences involving Christians around here,” Yusuf said in a telephone interview.
“Last year in May, my brother was kidnapped and held for a week until we paid a huge amount of money in ransom. Later in July, they kidnapped three Christians from this village and shot the younger brother of my uncle Garba Danlami. And again, in August they killed a church elder here in an apparent kidnap attempt,” Yusuf said.
“This is what we are always suffering and we cannot even go to our farms or move freely out of fear,” he said.
The attacks in northern Nigeria are aimed at weakening the economy of Christians to allow Islamic domination, says Rev. Joseph Hayab, the northern chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
“This is definitely affecting the capacity of Christians to contribute to the spread of the gospel or effectively compete for elective offices and have a say in the governance of the country,” Hayab said.