The 16-year-old daughter of a Nigerian church leader was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her Muslim boss by a Sharia court in the Niger state, a local news outlet has reported.
The Nigerian newspaper The Sunday Sun reports that the parents of Janet Habila have challenged a Sharia court's decision to marry their daughter to a Muslim man named Nasiru, a tailor for whom she worked for in the Erena district of the Shiroro Local Government Area, without their consent.
Janet served as an apprentice for Nasiru after she was enrolled by her father, Habila Gambo, in Nasiru's tailoring school.
Gambo, a leader with the United Mountain of Grace in Shundna village, enrolled his daughter in the tailoring institute last year in order to empower her in the trade of fashion design after she dropped out of school.
However, Gambo and his wife, Asabe, were surprised when they received notification in March that their daughter had been married off to Nasiru instead.
A source with knowledge about the situation told The Sun that Nasiru is believed to have arranged a Muslim man and women to come to the court and pose as Janet's parents so that the marriage could occur.
Daniel Harris, a regional manager for the Christian persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, told The Christian Post in a statement that as many as 12 states in northern Nigeria have adopted Sharia law.
"[W]hile it is only meant to apply to Muslims in these states, there are stories of these laws being used to allow marriages like [Janet's.] There are also reports of this happening in Muslim areas outside of these 12 states," Harris said. "According to an International Christian Concern representative in Nigeria, situations like these are 'very common,' and who the girl marries often depends more on the Sharia law enforcers than the will of the family."
Harris also pointed out that in 2016, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria stated that over 1,000 girls had been forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslims in northern Nigeria.
"Sometime in 2016, I enrolled my daughter, Janet, in Nasiru's tailoring institute as an apprentice to learn fashion design since she refused to continue with her education. She never disclosed to me that Nasiru was asking for her hand in marriage," Gambo told The Sun.
"But to my surprise, on March 16 I came back home and met a court summon, asking me to report at the Sharia Court, Erena," the father added. "On getting to the court, I was told that my daughter had converted to Islam and that her marriage had been fixed for 2 p.m. that same day."
Gambo added that he told the court that he was Janet's real father and that he was not aware of the marriage arrangement. However, the official at the court told Gambo that "the marriage would go on as planned even without my consent."
"My daughter had never told me that she wanted to convert to Islam, [didn't] talk of marrying a Muslim," Gambo asserted. "I paid a lot of money to train her and I would not allow this to happen while I am alive."
The father reported his concern to the Niger State Police Command and sent a letter calling on the police to rescue his daughter from the "unlawful marriage."
The Sun reports that the police arrested Nasiru following the issuance of Gambo's complaint and held him at a facility in Minna. The police also questioned Janet, who said that she was in a state of confusion when the events occurred before the Sharia court.
"I was confused, I didn't know what happened, but I was taking every instruction from him [Nasiru]," Janet was quoted as telling a police investigator. "I was afraid to let my parents know because of the consequences and I was equally afraid to turn down Nasiru's love advances, even though inside me I didn't like the idea."
Although Janet was initially returned to her parents, she and her parents were asked to return to the police facility five days later after the investigation was completed.
When they returned to the police station, Janet shocked her parents when she declared that she would rather be with Nasiru. Following that proclamation, the police returned Janet to her Muslim husband.
"This will never happen in my lifetime. My daughter is not a stray animal, and even a stray animal has an owner. Nobody can take my daughter from me for free without my consent, I will challenge this with the last drop of my blood," Gambo declared to The Sun.
Later when Asabe Gambo went to visit her daughter at Nasiru's home, she claims that she was beaten by Nasiru's relatives because she was not a Muslim.
"I only wanted see my daughter when the women in the house gathered and started beating me and calling me an unbeliever who should not be welcome into the house," she said. "They told me that my daughter was now a Muslim and, therefore, did not need any unbeliever around her. They didn't allow me to even sight my daughter with my eyes. I am seriously in pain, as a mother who carried her pregnancy for nine months."
"I want God to take my life instead of experiencing this kind of situation as a mother. This is quite unfortunate, I don't want to believe that this is happening to me," she added. "My daughter's sudden change of attitude is not ordinary. As a Christian, I strongly believe that God will surely pass his judgement over this unfortunate experience. My daughter will surely regain her senses and return back home."