KADUNA, Nigeria—On July 7, evangelical leaders in Nigeria and the United States accused Nigerian authorities of complicity in terrorism, in response to the recent kidnapping of 121 students of Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna state.
The abductions bring the number of students kidnapped for ransom this year to more than 1,000.
A group of more than 30 men carrying automatic rifles breached the high school compound around 12 a.m. on July 4, according to an eyewitness who spoke on condition for anonymity. The bandits forced open the main gate and overpowered the unarmed security man, the witness said.
Without a shot, they went into the girls’ hostels and brought out the girls, who were still in their nightclothes. They took them toward the inner side of the school fence and made them lie face down on the damp grassy ground, the eyewitness told The Epoch Times.
“I was standing outside that night because my baby was crying and I came out so that we could take fresh air, when they arrived,” said the person, whose husband is a staff member of the school, where they reside.
“I ran and hid behind some shrubs so I could see them from afar, and luckily my baby fell asleep,” she said.
“They came to the boys’ hostels and started bringing out the boys also,” she said. “I saw them and their guns, but not a shot was fired.”
She said they also gathered the boys and took them to where the girls had been forced to lie down.
She said she started hearing gunshots shortly after as they were moving the students away into the night.
They later saw that the bandits had knocked a large hole in a cinder-block wall, through which they exited the school with their captives.
Some of the abducted students escaped during the march into the surrounding forest. After being herded across bushes, through valleys, and over hills in the thick of the night at gunpoint for hours, Saph Dominic Bodam, 15, and a handful of other teen students escaped in the confusion and returned to the school after daybreak.
The principal of the school, Florence Tugga, told The Epoch Times just hours after the abduction that she’d had a premonition of the attack.
“Our final-year students have started their exams. My resolve was that we shall move the students into town by next Friday,” she said.
“I had a feeling that something terrible may happen here,” she said, “especially with the rumors going around. They [the bandits] came shortly before 12 a.m., Sunday night [July 4], I called all the security agents I could, but help came late,” she said.
“Now it has happened, and I am just much crushed with sorrow,” she said.
Government Complicity Claimed
“The kidnap of the Students of Bethel Baptist High School is an ongoing agenda by enemies of Christianity to visit terror on us and diminish Christianity in the state,” Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State chapter, told The Epoch Times on July 6.
“The government is complicit in this. When we speak against the terror unleashed on the church and against our members, we are hounded into detention, or the state hires people to speak and attack us as people who foment trouble.
“Look, now the kidnappers of the Bethel Baptist school children are even daring to ask that we send a large quantity of foodstuffs for them to be cooking for our children. Does that not tell you that they feel safe and are comfortable where they are camping and holding our children?
“Does that not show you that they are not in a hurry to leave? Are they not sure that no one will challenge them?
“Has any kidnapper or killer of Christians been apprehended and paraded and prosecuted in this state? I don’t know of any.”
Government and media sources frequently report that more than 60,000 lives have been taken by the complex insurgency and terrorist crisis in Nigeria since 2010. Nigerian politician Femi Fani-Kayode and clerics in Nigeria have told The Epoch Times that the true number of fatalities exceeds 500,000.
Christians, who form the majority of citizens in the southern part of Kaduna State, are trapped between mercenaries on one hand and state policies on the other, according to several Christian leaders interviewed by The Epoch Times.
“The mass kidnapping of Christian students in Kaduna state is an orchestrated agenda to discourage Christianity in Kaduna state, using the prevailing lawlessness in the country,” according to Yunusa Nmadu, the national secretary of Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), an evangelical Christian denomination.
“There is a sponsored agenda to cripple Christianity in Kaduna State hiding under the cover of insecurity in Nigeria,” Nmadu told The Epoch Times.
“In ECWA, we have to shut down more than 100 churches in Kaduna State after many Christian villages and churches were attacked and burned and some of our members killed, kidnapped, or fatally wounded in the past two years.
“It is the same with other denominations. Christianity is under siege in Kaduna State. The most annoying aspect is that it’s the resources taken from us after plundering our communities and from the ransoms we pay, that the armed bandits use to buy more arms and recruit more hands to carry out more invasions.
“Look at how long the students at the Federal School of Forestry inside Kaduna were held, and God knows the millions that were taken from their parents. Again, [look at] the trauma that the kidnapped students at Greenfield University, Kaduna, went through after five of the schoolmates were killed. The bandits required a payment of U.S. $40,000 before they were released. They were all Christians.
“But when Muslim students in Zamfara, Katsina, or Niger State were kidnapped, a Muslim cleric went into the bush, negotiated, and in no time, the students were released without the payment of ransom.
“This is a very trying time for Christians in Kaduna State and the entire Middle Belt of Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, Kaduna State Gov. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has ordered the compulsory closure of 13 Christian schools, including Bethel Baptist, citing their vulnerability to attacks as the reason.
“This is intolerable,” Rev. Kevin Jessip, an evangelical leader in the United States and founder of Global Strategic Alliance, told The Epoch Times.
“Based upon my conference call today with 15 evangelical and government leaders in Nigeria, I was told this: The president of Nigeria, the army, and the police are complicit with Boko Haram and radical terrorist gangs,” he said. “The denominational leaders are asking for an international response to the genocide wiping out of hundreds of villages.
“They are asking churches to raise money to purchase weapons for defense measures.”
The U.S.-based International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) also expressed concern.
“The situation in Nigeria continues to deteriorate,” Kyle Abts, co-founder of ICON, told The Epoch Times in a text.
“The West is guilty of not giving attention to the crisis nor helping address the situation in Nigeria, ” Abts wrote. “Instead of focusing on the ethno-religious issues that are destroying lives and communities, they focus on issues such as climate change or farmer-herder conflicts, which are not the direct causes of the violence.”