Church of the Brethren leaders in the US are joining Nigeria’s largest church network, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), to call for prayer and fasting for the safe release of hundreds of teenage school girls abducted April 14. The girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic sect in northern Nigeria violently seeking a “pure” Islamic state. Most of the affected families are part of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN--Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria).
In related news, Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer has written to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin about the kidnapping of the girls in order to raise awareness of the situation in Nigeria among US government officials.
Chibok is in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, and in past decades was a mission station of the Church of the Brethren. Here are excerpts from a report by World Watch Monitor, which exists to report the under-reported story of Christians worldwide under pressure for their faith:
“The CAN leadership, especially our president, has called that all Christians pray and fast because of the security situation in the country: the recent bomb blast in Nyanya in Abuja, and then the abduction of students in a girls’ secondary school...and all the challenges of security that are going on,” said Musa Asake, general secretary of CAN. The local chapter of CAN in Borno State also decreed three days of prayer and fasting.
On April 14, at around 10 p.m., suspected members of Boko Haram swooped into Chibok in seven Hilux Toyota pick-ups. While some of the attackers set government and other buildings ablaze, others went to the senior secondary school where they overpowered the security guards before herding at least 230 of the female students onto trucks, and drove the girls (who were between the ages of 16 and 20) deep into the nearby Sambisa Forest.
“Such an attack where girls were taken away has never taken place. Even recently when they [Boko Haram militants] attacked a Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, the boys were killed but the girls were told to go away and leave the school. They never took them away. This is the first time they are taking such a number of girls in a school. So we are assuming they did so because most of the girls are Christians,” said a local church leader, whose identity could not be disclosed for security reasons.
State Governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima first announced that 52 girls had escaped, leaving 77 still missing. But the head teacher at the school Ms. Asabe Kwambura refuted his claims and said parents reported 230 girls were abducted, with 40 having escaped. All schools in the state were closed due to the insecurity.
The federal government has challenged Borno security agents to do everything possible to rescue the girls. Borno State Governor Shettima has offered a reward of 50,000,000 Naira (about $50,000) for any information leading to the rescue of the girls. But this is not enough to calm parents’ anger, and criticism of the military's handling of the crisis is mounting.
Samuel Dali, president of EYN, spoke to World Watch Monitor a week after the kidnapping. “We haven’t heard anything that the government is planning. Even some in the state government who are supposed to direct us are starting to complain that the federal government needs to do something. We just hear people saying we need to do something, we need to do something, but we just don’t know what needs to be done.”
Some parents have decided to take things into their own hands, and have pleaded with Boko Haram to release the girls, in vain. Others have ventured into the Sambisa Forest to look for their daughters, without the support of the military. About 60 kilometers into the forest, locals advised them not to proceed any further because it was too dangerous, as Boko Haram is equipped with much more sophisticated weapons than the sticks and machetes the parents were carrying.
“We call on President Goodluck Jonathan to take the necessary measures to free our children. We really feel neglected. I am convinced that if these abducted girls were their own daughters, they would have done something,” said a grieving father. “We call on the kidnappers to listen to our cry and sorrow and let our children come back home,” he added in despair.
A worker with Open Doors International, which partners with churches in northern Nigeria, added: “The abducted girls will most probably be responsible for cooking and cleaning for the insurgents. But there is every possibility that these children could be forcefully converted to Islam and married off to members of the group or other Muslim men.”
So far the affected parents have not received any psychological or medical assistance. Moreover, the girls who escaped have been already recalled to sit their examinations again. Some parents accused local authorities of attempting to prevent these escaped schools girls from retelling their ordeal to the media.
Meanwhile, the thoughts of the stunned Nigerian nation are with the girls who still remain in the forest. One commentator described to the BBC the mood of the nation as one of “present, continuous agony.”
-- This is excerpted from a report provided by World Watch Monitor. BBC reports on the kidnapping note that “Boko Haram, whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden,’ is fighting to establish Islamic law in Nigeria” and “often targets educational establishments.” BBC Nigeria correspondant Will Ross in an analysis piece compared this kidnapping to a notorious incident in Uganda: “The attack is an eerie echo of a mass abduction in northern Uganda back in 1996. A total of 139 girls aged between 11 and 16 were seized from dormitories at St Mary's School in Aboke. They were tied together with rope and were taken away by the Lords Resistance Army, which says it is fighting for a state based on the Biblical 10 Commandments. So, same terror tactics, different religion.” Go to www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27187255 to read the full report from Will Ross.
For Brethren who wish to gain more insight, Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer recommends “Our Bodies, Their Battleground: Boko Haram and Gender-Based Violence against Christian Women and Children in North-Eastern Nigeria Since 1999" by Atta Barkindo, a doctoral candidate with SOAS, London; Benjamin Gudaku of Eduwatch Consults and Research Centre, Abuja, Nigeria; and Caroline Katgum Wesley of Nigeria’s Political Violence Research Network. “Our Bodies, Their Battleground” was published by Open Doors International. Find it online at www.worldwatchmonitor.org/research/3117403 .