A Nigerian pastor who was abducted by the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group seven months ago was finally freed on Sunday and said his captors demanded that he convert to Islam.
Pastor Moses Oyeleke of Living Faith Church (also known as Winners Chapel) was released along with a young female named Ndagilaya Ibrahim Umar of the government science secondary school in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state.
According to Sahara Reporters, the captives' release was facilitated by the Department of State Service and the Initiative for Peacebuilding Movement and the Kalthum Foundation for Peace.
Oyeleke was abducted on April 10 along with National Youth Service Corps member Abraham Amuta while on their way from Maiduguri to Chibok.
On Monday, while visiting Borno's deputy governor’s office, Oyeleke spoke with reporters about his time in captivity.
“We were on our way to Chibok when they caught us and took us to Yola; from there, they took a detour and finally took us to Sambisa [forest],” Oyeleke said, according to The Cable newspaper and The Punch. “It was the two of us, myself and my brother, who was not released.”
The pastor said he was promised that when discussions are finished that Amuta and Umar's older sister would be released by Boko Haram.
Oyeleke said he is “very happy” and his heart is filled with joy to be able to see his family, friends, and associates again. Oyeleke assured that he “stayed peaceful” with his abductors throughout the seven-month ordeal even though his captors demanded that he become Muslim.
“Many times they have requested me to convert to Islam,” he was quoted as saying.
“Their preachers had preached to me a lot of times. But you know, when you have wisdom, you relate with people in a way that would not lead to quarrel. When they came to preach, I paid attention to everything they said. And when they asked me questions about things that I knew would cause problems if I respond, I always told them I don’t know, so that I didn’t say things that would offend them.”
According to The Cable, the pastor’s captors were said to have contacted Oyeleke’s family and the church’s resident pastor, Victor Samaila, about a month after his abduction to demand a ransom.
Umar also spoke with the media at the deputy governor’s office. She explained that in the forest, the extremists “marry little girls” and “women do not talk to men.”
“[M]ovement is restricted,” she said.
Since 2013, Boko Haram insurgents have kidnapped over 1,000 children in Nigeria.
One of the most widely reported Boko Haram abductions occurred in April 2014, when over 276 schoolgirls from the predominantly-Christian town of Chibok were kidnapped. Even though more than 100 of the schoolgirls have been released, more than 100 remain missing.
In February 2018, 110 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in the town of Dapchi. About five of the Dapchi schoolgirls died while all others except one were released weeks later.
The one Dapchi schoolgirl who remains in captivity is Leah Sharibu. Reports have indicated that Sharibu was not released with the rest of her classmates because of her refusal to deny Christ.
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. In addition to extremist groups like Boko Haram, Christian farming communities have often come under the attack of radical Fulani herdsmen.
Thousands of Christians have been killed due to Fulani attacks in recent years.
Oyeleke’s release comes weeks after the release of six Christian schoolgirls and two staff members who were abducted at gunpoint from Engravers’ College in Kakau Daji village near Kaduna city by suspected Fulani radicals and held for about a month.