Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria freed a Christian pastor on Wednesday evening who had been held captive since Christmas Eve, just hours before the ransom deadline expired and he was to be executed.
Security sources told the Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times that Pastor Bulus Yikura, who was abducted during an attack in the Chibok local government area of the Borno state on Dec. 24, has been released. A Premium Times reporter claimed to have seen the pastor being transported to a state security office around 6:15 p.m. local time.
Boko Haram, one of the world’s deadliest extremist groups, released a video on Feb. 24 where Yikura pleaded with the Nigerian government and the Christian Association of Nigeria to rescue him before he was killed.
“If you want me alive, I beg you in your capacity as president, the governor and our local government chairman to save me from this suffering,” the pastor said in the Hausa language, according to HumAngle.
“Today is the last day I will have the opportunity to call on you in your capacity as my parents and relatives in the country,” Yikura said. “Anyone who has the intention should help and save me. Please release me from this pain.”
In one of the videos obtained by HumAngle, the pastor knelt as a knife-wielding man in a mask stood behind him. Yikrua, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, had appeared in three videos throughout his detainment. One was released in December, days after his abduction, and the others were released in January and February.
Security forces told Premium Times that Yikura’s family and the EYN church had been negotiating his release since last week.
When asked to speak about his release, the pastor was quoted as saying, “I thank God, I thank God.”
Dede Laugesen, executive director of the United States-based advocacy group Save the Persecuted Christians, believes EYN church might have paid his ransom.
“We celebrate his release and also the children from Zamfara being released, but the plague of kidnapping for ransom that has been rampant in Nigeria since 2019 has been unaddressed and [we are] now very concerned that we have seen the increase in the kidnapping of schoolchildren,” Laugesen told the Christian Post in an interview Thursday.
Kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative industry to fund Nigerian extremists and criminals. The West African country has experienced a wave of mass abductions in the past months.
Nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid last week by armed militants in northwest Nigeria and were safely released on Tuesday.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that is becoming more and more ingrained in Nigeria and a problem that is very difficult to resolve, especially when the government is likely also involved,” Laugesen said.
Not long after the girls were freed on Wednesday, extremists reportedly burned much of a Zamfara state village in northwest Nigeria and abducted about 60 people, according to HumAngle. Many residents have fled to nearby areas for safety.
In January 2020, the Rev. Lawan Adnimi was beheaded in the Sambisa forest by Boko Haram militants because he refused to renounce his faith and money was not raised for his ransom.
Similar to Yikura, Boko Haram had previously released videos of Adnimi, who said, “By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife and my children and all my colleagues. If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.”
Laugesen said the federal government’s lack of accountability in the prevalence of persecution must be called out before it escalates further.
“It’s a very complex situation with lots of factors involved, but thus far, the international community has failed to address this growing calamity in Nigeria,” Laugesen said. “We are all very concerned that you will see the eruption of violence on the scale of what we saw in Rwanda should the international community not be able to bring the Nigerian federal government to account.”
Laugesen told CP that some Christians are concerned the government enables militant organizations in order to receive funding for the military complex to fight terrorism.
“Nigeria is essentially the new headquarters for the Islamic jihad seeking to establish a caliphate …,” Laugesen said. “The Christians in Nigeria and others are very concerned that the government continues to give impunity to Islamic extremists in Nigeria. … So there’s no real accountability coming from the Nigerian government.”
The Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the third country most affected by terrorism in the world. From 2001 to 2019, it says there were over 22,000 terror-related deaths. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, also leads the world in the number of Christians killed, according to Open Doors USA.
“Christians in Nigeria are really without representation or a voice,” Laugesen said. “Many believe that Nigeria is headed toward a complete unraveling, which would be a disaster on par with what happened in the Middle East with ISIS. Our organization, along with others, believes that an act of genocide of Christians is happening in Nigeria, that it is supported top-down, bottom-up from the government, and from the extremist groups.”
Open Doors 2021 World Watch List ranks Nigeria as the ninth-worst country for Christian persecution. The organization also reports an “extreme” level of Islamic oppression toward believers in Nigeria. Just under 50% of the country is Christian. According to Open Doors, there are over 95 million Christians in the country.
Nigeria was the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department’s list of countries of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”