Held in Fulani Captivity–Kidnapped Nigerian Christians Cling to Jesus
[Kidnapping survivors Sofia and Yaha and her baby daughter pictured above]
Only a few houses and two churches make up the remote village of Tuku in north-central Nigeria. The days are usually simple and quiet for Tuku villagers. Its residents are mostly Nigerian Christians and grain farmers who work the surrounding corn, millet and wheat crops.
But on one Tuesday night on August 15, 2017, Tuku was shaken to its core when Muslim The Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. militants stormed the community, kidnapping several women and a baby. Sofia remembers when the nightmare began.
“At about 8:00 that night, while I was in the room chatting with our children, we saw a light by our little gate,” she says.
Her husband wasn’t home. He had gone to a meeting at the pastor’s house. Sofia peeped outside and saw a group of Fulani men in her compound.
“I quickly closed the door and thought, We are finished!”
Sofia had heard the reports and stories of men belonging to the Muslim Fulani tribe attacking Christian communities, killing, kidnapping and taking possession of everything in their path. Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, in places like southern Kaduna, Benue and Taraba, have faced persistent targeting as herders attack the villages, killing men, women and children and destroying their homes before sending their cattle to graze on their crops.
Although there are socioeconomic factors driving this violence, Christians and experts warn to not ignore the religious motivation. It’s part of a concerted effort to Islamize Christians and drive away those who refuse to convert to Islam from this strategic area.
Targets of Abduction
Sofia quickly realized the men were there to abduct some of the village residents—and that she was one of their targets. The men broke down the door of her house, demanding to know where her husband was.
“I told them he had gone out. Then they ordered me to take my blanket and follow them. They gave the children a phone number their father had to call to negotiate my release.”
Outside the compound, Sophia saw the gang of Fulani who had two other women and even a baby. The next two days would be filled with one trial after another.
“We trekked in the forest without food or water, not knowing where they were taking us,” Sofia says.
Meanwhile, her husband had begun negotiating her ransom. At first, the militants asked for 3 million naira [approximately $8,000] for each of their captives.
“But we are peasants who only get income from the farm,” Sofia says. “Three million was just not possible.”
Faith In the ‘Devil’s Den’
The women waited for negotiations to continue, unsure of where they were or how long they’d be held. Sofia’s faith, she says, helped her get through the ordeal, as well as encourage the other captives.
“While in the devil’s den, I always prayed to God to remember His promise to never leave or forsake us,” she remembers. “Some nights the two younger women would cry and ask God, ‘Why me?’ I had to keep encouraging them to hold on to Christ and His promises.”
Twenty-year-old Yaha*, who was taken with her 8-month-old daughter, still feels traumatized by the experience. But when she lost all hope of surviving, she says, Sofia reminded her of God’s promises.
“Mama Sofia always encouraged us to hold on to God and believe that one day we would be free,” Yaha recalls. “She was my comfort in that situation, and any time we had to trek for miles, she would carry my baby to reduce the stress for me.”
A deep sacrifice
Finally, after a week of captivity, Sofia’s husband and the other victims’ families received a final number for a ransom: 1 million naira each (around $2,700).
“My husband and the other victims’ families ran [around] borrowing money but still couldn’t get the required amount,” Sofia says.
Yaha remembers when she heard the ransom price. “I broke down, knowing that my husband doesn’t have that kind of money,” Yaha says. “Each passing day, I would hug my daughter tightly and whisper a prayer to God: ‘Lord, even if I should die, please preserve my baby.’”
Fortunately, the family members were able to gather the ransom money, but only at a deep sacrifice–selling parts of their farmland and crops. Finally, the women were released for the costly ransom.
Faithful to His Promises
“This experience has strengthened my faith in Christ because He was faithful to His promises,” Yaha says. “I was starved for a week and still I had milk to feed my baby! It is a miracle. Despite sleeping in the forest with all the mosquitoes and insects that kept feasting on us, my baby and I are doing fine.”
In her captivity, Sofia saw God move in ways few of us ever experience. She knows without a doubt that God had His hand in her release and safety and in the power of the prayers of the Body of Christ: “I want to say a big thank you to all the believers in the world who prayed for us; indeed, God heard your prayers,” she says. “We are now free and at home with our families once more.”
Open Doors and our on-the-ground partners in Nigeria are coming alongside Christians targeted by Fulani and an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria militants to help support believers as they return home to their decimated villages. Open Doors is providing services like medical clinics, boreholes (for clean water) and schools, as well as crisis relief for those forced to flee their communities. We’re also training churches to help them equip Christians to respond to persecution and stand strong in their faith through discipleship training.
*Names have been changed to protect identities