Date:  January 9, 2024

Two pastors among those kidnapped.

By Christian Daily International-Morning Star News

The Rev. Elkanah Ayuba held captive by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Taraba state, Nigeria in December 2023. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News screenshot of video).

The Rev. Elkanah Ayuba held captive by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Taraba state, Nigeria in December 2023. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News screenshot of video).

ABUJA, Nigeria (Christian Daily International–Morning Star News) – Two pastors kidnapped along with others in Nigeria last month remain captive despite their denomination paying 11 million naira (US$12,264) for their release, church officials said.

The Rev. Elkanah Ayuba and the Rev. Simon Ezra, both of the United Methodist Church (UMC), were among at least 20 people kidnapped on Dec. 19 from Pupule Town, Yorro County in Taraba state, according to the Rev. Micah Dopa, president of the Southern Conference of the UMC.

“As a Body of Christ, we mobilized and paid 11 million naira for our members to be released, but the terrorists decided to release only the Muslim victims in their custody,” Pastor Dopa said in a Jan. 4 statement. “Going by the video clip circulating in the media and the action of the terrorists, it is clear to say that the terrorists’ activities are a plot to erase Christians in the area.”

The two pastors and 14 members of the UMC remain in captivity, he said. The kidnappers on Dec. 23 also abducted another UMC member, Dimas Ishaya, along with others from Dila village. On Dec. 26, they kidnapped UMC member Fidelis Daniel from his residence along with others from the Gongong Malik market in Gongon village, including the pastor of UMC Kasakuri and other church members, he said.

“We wish to in strong terms condemn the ungodly, barbaric, heartless, evil and senseless act of banditry and terrorism in the Yorro community,” Pastor Dopa said.

Area resident Charles Tolmava said the kidnappers were in transit with the captives.

“We learned that Rev. Elkanah Ayuba has disclosed that the terrorists keep moving them toward the border of Nigeria with the Cameroon Republic,” Tolmava told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Their health keeps deteriorating with no food and water. The demands of the bandits are high, as they are demanding millions of naira. The church is finding it difficult to meet the demand of the terrorists.”

In a video the kidnappers recorded three days after the Dec. 19 abduction, a blind-folded Pastor Ayuba stated that the captors had threatened to kill them unless Taraba state leaders, “especially Muslim and Christian leaders under the Muslim Council and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), meet and draw the attention of the Nigerian government to our plight.”

“There’s the need for them to dialogue with our captors so as to get us released from captivity,” Pastor Ayuba said as armed captors stood behind him. “There’s the need for the government to dialogue with our captors and find a lasting solution to this menace. We believe that unless the government takes steps towards finding a solution to this problem for peace to reign, unless this is done in the next few days, we’ll be killed.”

The pastor, who is district superintendent, Yorro Central of the UMC, appeared to have been forced at gunpoint to create an impression that the captors were Muslim Fulani herdsmen who had taken up arms because they had been marginalized by the Nigerian government.

Pastor Dopa called on the Yorro community to help security agencies by reporting suspicious people and movements.

“We want both the federal and Taraba state governments to act fast to end this incident and ensure the release of our pastors and 14 others, or we will resort to self-defense, which is both biblical and constitutional,” he reportedly said.

Commissioner of Police Joseph Eribo said the state police command had developed strategies for ridding criminals from the area and the state. He appealed for calm and for the community to provide information to help in prosecution.

The Rev. Isaiah Magaji Jirapye, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Taraba State Chapter, said in a press statement that “Christians in Taraba state have continued to suffer from the nefarious and unwholesome activities of Muslim Fulani bandits, kidnappers and terrorists.”

“The recent abduction of some Christians in Yorro Local Government Area of Taraba state by Muslim Fulani bandits, which their video surfaced on the social media, calls for serious concern from all and sundry,” Pastor Jirapye said. “Despite the fact that the church paid ransom for the release of their pastors and members, the terrorists refused to release them. But instead released other Muslim abductees in their place. There’s the need for concerted efforts on the part of the Nigeria government, the Taraba state government, amongst other stakeholders, to win the fight against terrorism, banditry and kidnapping.”

In text messages to Christian Daily International-Morning Star News, area resident Akila Hamman pleaded for prayers for the captives, as did John Jonathan, another resident who identified some of the other captives as Daddy Andeyati, Emma Francis, Linus Anthony and Uncle Mika.

Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith in 2022, with 5,014, according to Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List (WWL) report. It also led the world in Christians abducted (4,726), sexually assaulted or harassed, forcibly married or physically or mentally abused, and it had the most homes and businesses attacked for faith-based reasons. As in the previous year, Nigeria had the second most church attacks and internally displaced people.

In the 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to sixth place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 7 the previous year.

“Militants from the Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and others conduct raids on Christian communities, killing, maiming, raping and kidnapping for ransom or sexual slavery,” the WWL report noted. “This year has also seen this violence spill over into the Christian-majority south of the nation… Nigeria’s government continues to deny this is religious persecution, so violations of Christians’ rights are carried out with impunity.”

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a 2020 report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.