In Nigeria, a painful ordeal as Christian siblings are abducted by Fulani herdsmen
Awotoye looks back:
“It happened on a Sunday morning, October 31st, 2021. Peter who worships in the Catholic Church decided to worship with us that Sunday at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Kauka u Daji, Chikun local government area of Kaduna state. At that time, I was at the children’s church which was not far from the main building. At about 10AM, when the service was ending, a woman came running towards the children’s church shouting and screaming!
“I heard gunshots afterward. People running towards a nearby primary school. I also started running for my dear life, however, I couldn’t run very fast due to the state of shock that I was in. I rushed to hide in a toilet, and locked myself in. At that time, Kaduna State Government shut down the state’s mobile phone network due to the numerous kidnappings that were going on in the state. There was no way I could call anyone nor warn the security agency.
“Looking through a crack, I saw one of the kidnappers pull up on a motorcycle. He was dressed up like Boko Haram, however, when he spoke, I realized he was a Fulani man. He started firing his weapon uncontrollably and shot two people, one died on the spot. I was shivering as I didn’t know what would become of my two younger siblings at the main church. I quickly stopped making any sort of movement and my hands were on my mouth to prevent me from screaming.
“After some hours, it seemed calm everywhere. I peeked to see what was happening. Some of the church members were coming out from their hiding places shouting out the names of their friends and family members. I began shouting out for Peter and Elizabeth. We all soon realized that the Fulani men had taken 72 Church members, including my brother and sister. I walked out of the church like a madwoman. Still, I give God the glory for sparing my life.
“That evening, six members escaped and came back, leaving 66 members in the hands of the kidnappers. In the process of escaping, one of them was shot but he survived. The kidnappers selected one man out of the 66 people held to be their contact person as there was no network to communicate with us. They sent him to get foodstuffs worth 700,000 Naira ($1700).
“On Dec. 7, 2021, exactly a week later, I was at home when I heard someone screaming my name “Sister Florence!” I quickly rushed outside, she immediately grabbed my hand, and started running towards the church compound. My heart was heavy and beating so fast and I asked what was going on but got no reply from the woman, who had tears running down her cheeks.
“On reaching the church premises, I saw a married woman who had been among the kidnapped church members. She was in tears, I asked her about my younger siblings. I looked her in the eye and she told me: “They have shot five of our boys, including Peter and dumped them in the bush sending me to deliver this sad news.” She quickly took us to where they dumped their bodies. Three of them were already dead except my brother and one other boy, who were still breathing. We rushed them to a nearby hospital. On Dec. 9, we lost the other boy, while my brother was transferred to Barou Dikko hospital in Kaduna, where he spent one month and two weeks. To the glory of God, he survived it, though he talks with difficulty and has little use of his right hand and left leg and he cannot remember some things. However, I am so glad that he is still alive. Meanwhile, we were praying fervently for my younger sister who was still being held by the Fulani herdsmen.”
This is Peter’s story:
‘’It was a terrible experience! We walked for days in the dense forest, crossing rivers blindfolded. Finally, arrived at a camp. We were tortured and beaten mercilessly and our stomachs were empty! They were heartless! Wicked! Demons in human flesh! There were about 50 well-armed Fulani men in the camp with us. On the 7th of December, they brought me out together with four other young boys (Dominic, who was 15, Enoch (20), Hassan (19), Ishaku (22), and myself. They said kun je ku kawo mana kudi daga wurin iyayen ku! (“We will release the five of you to go get money for us from your parents!”) I felt some sort of relief that I was going home not knowing there was more to it—it was all a lie!
“The five of us were blindfolded with and our hands were tied behind our backs. We walked for some 11 hours. One of the Fulani men shouted siya! (Stop moving!) we stopped. Masa gaba kadan! (“Move to the front a little!”) We obeyed and then they shot the five of us in the head at the same time. Laying there, I could hear them saying, mu kai gawan su a church, saba da susani bamu wasa! (“Let’s take the dead bodies to church so that they will take us very seriously!”).
“When I woke up, I found myself in a hospital, weak, barely talking, moving, nor remembering nor recognizing anything or anybody, I couldn’t feel my right hand and left leg however, with the help of the therapist and help at home, I can talk again, though not clearly, and walk, though not properly, and I am beginning to recall some things. I lost the opportunity to go to school this year. However, I am grateful to God that I am still alive.”
Elizabeth tells her story:
“The suffering we went through at the hands of the kidnappers is beyond explanation. Once a week we were fed boiled rice with nothing in it, not even salt. Our drinking water came from a dirty river close to the camp. We showered once a week in the same river. I saw them take my brother together with four other boys with the claim to let them go get money from our families. I was scared but happy that they would soon come to our rescue.
“But later that day, the kidnappers who took my brother and the other boys, returned and said mungamar the su! (“We have killed them!”) I cried bitterly and then started preparing for my own death as I had already lost hope. The kidnappers sent their spokesperson to our people demanding 20 million Naira ($48,000) for our research. The Church said they could only afford 5 million Naira ($12,000).
“At first the Fulani men refused the 5 million Naira, but later collected the 5 million, saying they should not waste time as they are rushing toward the next operation. They released 45 Church members and kept 15 of us in the camp. We would be set free only if the kidnappers would be given five new motorcycles. Otherwise, we would all be killed.
“The Church gave 350,000 Naira ($185) for each of the families involved. We were released after the kidnappers were given the 5 motorcycles. In all, we spent one month and 13 days in captivity. I was very happy to see my brother alive. However, I am somewhat afraid of him because of his anger. I just pray that he won’t one day take up a knife and hurt someone. Due to this terrible experience, I am afraid of almost everything. I lost trust in people.”