The wife an Anglican bishop and a church secretary have regained their freedom just over a week after they were kidnapped by gunmen in the Kano state of Nigeria.
The Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, primate of the Church of Nigeria, announced last Friday the release of Saratu Zubairu, the wife of Bari Diocese Bishop Idris Ado Zubairu, and a diocesan secretary identified as Deborah.
According to ACNNTV, the television outlet of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Okoh made the announcement during a live broadcast of a consecration service honoring five new bishops and two archbishops at the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in Kogi state.
The two women were reportedly abducted by gunmen on March 10 when they attacked and looted the Bari village of Gidan Mato, where the Anglican Cathedral and bishop’s court are located.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization that advocates for Christians in over 20 countries, the alleged attack was said to have occurred at a time when Bishop Zubairu was traveling to Plateau state.
CSW reports that it is unclear whether a ransom was paid to secure the abducted women. It’s also unclear as to who abducted the women.
“CSW welcomes the release of Mrs. Saratu Zubairu and her colleague and wish both women a speedy recovery from this shocking ordeal,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement.
The abduction and subsequent release of the two women from Bari come as kidnappings for ransom by armed militants have become all too common across Nigeria.
According to CSW, 2018 and 2019 saw a “marked increase” in the number of church leaders, family members and lay Christians targeted for abduction or murder. However, no religious or ethnic community has been immune to the kidnappings as many Muslims have been victimized as well.
As CSW notes, both Christian and Muslim survivors of abductions claim that those responsible for their abductions were either of Fulani ethnicity or spoke the Fulani language. Radical Fulanis are often accused of carrying out deadly overnight attacks on farming villages across the Middle Belt of Nigeria, which has resulted in the death and displacement of thousands.
Meanwhile, other victims have said they were kidnapped by either French-speaking captors or captors who are unable to understand the Hausa language common in Northern Nigeria.
“We remain deeply concerned by the growing trend of abductions for ransom spreading across Nigeria and continue to call on the government to do everything in its power to ensure adequate protection for vulnerable communities,” Thomas added.
Fulani radicals are not the only ones accused of carrying out kidnappings in Nigeria. The terrorist group Boko Haram and its splinter group, Islamic State West Africa Province, have kidnapped hundreds upon hundreds of people over the last decade.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, militant groups in Nigeria resort to kidnapping as a means of raising funds through ransom payments.
In January, a pastor kidnapped by Boko Haram in the Adamawa state was executed. A source told the United States-based charity Save the Persecuted Christians that the Rev. Lawan Andimi was murdered because the money for his ransom could not be raised and because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ.
Also in January, a Catholic seminarian was killed after he and three others were abducted at the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna state.
Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
The nongovernmental organization International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law reported recently that at least 350 Christians have been killed across Nigeria in the first two months of 2020 due to attacks carried out by radical Fulani herdsmen, terrorist groups like Boko Haram and highway bandits.
“Available statistics have shown that between 11,500 and 12,000 Christian deaths were recorded in the past 57 months or since June 2015 when the present central government of Nigeria came on board,” a recent report from the organization reads. “Out of this figure, Jihadist Fulani herdsmen accounted for 7,400 Christian deaths, Boko Haram 4,000 and the ‘Highway Bandits’ 150-200.”
In December, the U.S. State Department listed Nigeria as its “special watch list” of governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”