KADUNA, Nigeria—The eyes of the West are slowly turning toward Nigeria’s complex agony, but for the family of Abigail Philip, the big news is that “mom is back home.”
Philip, a widow and mother of five, and matron of the Bethel Baptist High School Academy, spent 92 days as a kidnap victim along with her 127 students in a forest near the city of Kaduna.
“She was kept in the bush with the children to assist the bandits to calm the children and to assist in taking care of them,” according to a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity. “She is still in a very disturbing physical and mental condition, and she had to be taken to where she can properly rest and receive medical attention.”
After three months in captivity, armed Fulani Muslim bandits released another batch of five students of the academy in Damishi, in the Chikun local government area (LGA) of Christian southern Kaduna, the school’s management confirmed in a statement on Oct. 8. Philip and the children were pushed out of their beds in the early hours of July 5 at gunpoint by scores of men carrying AK-47 rifles.
That brings to 117 the number of Bethel Academy students released after payments of various forms of ransoms by traumatized parents and the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC)—which owns the school—according to statements made to the press since the kidnapping.
War correspondent Lara Logan referenced the Bethel Baptist Academy kidnapping during her 38-minute special report on the Nigerian crisis on the Fox Nation streaming service of Fox News in late September. The documentary has been excerpted in segments on the YouTube channel of ICON PSJ Media.
The thousands of Fulani bandit gangs share a common goal with the ISIS insurgency known as Boko Haram, namely the full Islamization of Nigeria, in Logan’s analysis.
Another 10 Bethel students remain as captives, according to the Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of Kaduna state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
“They still refused to release all of the remaining 10 hostages,” Hayab told The Epoch Times in an interview on Oct. 9. “They said that they will need another parting sum before releasing the rest, and we have almost exhausted all our help channels. The only good news is that the kids are alive.”
The amount of ransom that has been paid to the kidnappers is unknown. Hayab said that additional ransom had to be hurriedly paid on Oct. 7, but he didn’t disclose the amount.
Some of the students have also managed to escape at various times, Hayab said.
“Glory be to God! Five of our Bethel Baptist High School students and the matron, making six, have just been released to us this evening, Oct. 8,” Rev. Dr. Israel Akanji, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, said in confirming on Oct. 8 the release of the students and Philip. “We thank God and trust that the remaining four students will also be released. Thank you for your prayers and support.”
“They were supposed to have released all the students [on] Oct. 2, based on our agreements with them,” Hayab said. “But these people are not men of honor, because they always shift on agreements reached.”
“They may have changed their minds, because a female student managed to escape that Saturday morning [Oct. 2] and that angered them,” he said, without offering any details about the girl and how she came to escape from the well-guarded camp. For five days after the girl’s escape, the bandits ceased their regular communication with negotiators, according to Hayab.
“We have united her with her family.
“Some other students have also escaped at various times, but for security reasons, we add them as among those who were released.”
The Epoch Times reported on July 8 that 15 of the kidnapped students made daring escapes from their abductors.
“We panicked and kept praying that the worst had not happened to the rest of the captives,” he said. “They then made contact on Thursday and explained that they had to move their hostages to a hideout where they had found a suitable and reliable telephone network.”
The Kaduna state government in the last week of September ordered the suspension of all telephone network services to some counties worst affected by violence.
Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna state commissioner of internal security and home affairs, said the directive was aimed to cut communication between violent criminals in the bush from their informants and collaborators outside their camps.
Christian-owned schools have been hit by a wave of mass abductions since late 2019, which have included the murder of some hostages.
On Oct. 3, 2019, armed Fulani gunmen invaded The Engravers College in the Kakau Daji neighborhood on the outskirts of the Kaduna metropolis and kidnapped six teenage pupils and two staff members; they were released after the payment of an undisclosed ransom two weeks later. The Fulani are a Muslim tribe that has been implicated in kidnappings and violence against Nigerian Christians.
On March 11, armed men who were later confirmed to be bandits from the Fulani tribe made a spectacular invasion of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, in Afaka in Kaduna state. The school, with a majority-Christian student body, lies just a quarter-mile from the military barracks of the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA). The invaders took away 39 students, only two of whom weren’t Christians.
The last of those students was released after 55 days.
The exact ransom paid has never been confirmed, although the kidnappers reportedly asked for $840,000 for the students’ freedom.
There was a national outrage after video that went viral showed the kidnapped Afaka Forestry students being tortured under subhuman conditions.
A month after the Afaka abduction, on April 21, armed Fulani Muslim bandits invaded Greenfield University, about 12 miles from Kaduna city, and kidnapped 23 students, all of them Christians.
Five of the students were slain to drive home the ruthlessness of the kidnappers and the seriousness of their demands for a huge ransom, reportedly $1.4 million.
The rest were eventually set free after 39 days of negotiations with the parents and university management.