10/14/2022 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Fulani militants kidnapped 33 girls from Sakaba village of Kebbi State on February 13, 2022. The girls were all Christians, according to locals. Valatine, a student in Sokoto who escaped the attack on her home village of Sakaba earlier this year, told ICC how young girls are persecuted in northern Nigeria and how her life is under threat too.
“There aren’t any young girls left in my village,” Valatine told ICC. “The militants are kidnapping them to forcefully convert them to Islam.”
Valatine has experienced threats to her life at home and at school. A girl named Deborah was killed earlier this year in Sokoto, where Valatine goes to school, by a violent mob incensed at comments Deborah had made about Islam. “I resumed school on August 10, 2022. It was announced that the students who killed Deborah are in prison, but that was not true. That very night, one of the students from the mob saw me and told me that he would kill me since I am a friend of Deborah. I narrowly escaped from him and only because he was alone.”
“Even though I escaped from the Muslim students, going back home, Muslim militants who are referred to as ‘bandits,’ attacked my community and kidnapped many young girls. God saved me and I escaped. Fourteen girls have been held by the Muslim militants since a September 5 attack. Men from my village who escaped say the militants are looking to kidnap more girls, including me. Apparently, the militants are looking for someone in the village and who went to the school. I am the target.”
The media and governments tend to focus most of their attention on well-organized terrorist organizations like Boko Haran and Islamic State, but think tanks and human rights watchdogs, including ICC, have warned for years that Fulani militancy—decentralized and harder to pin down than terrorist groups—actually present a far bigger threat to the civilian population and a particularly dangerous threat to Christian communities.
Years of sectarian violence in Nigeria have put tens of thousands of Christian families into cycles of poverty that do not allow the luxury of a formal education. Whether school uniforms or books or transport or school fees themselves, education costs something. Spending money on optional expenses like schooling just is not an option for some families, many of whom were kicked off their land or suffered the loss of valuable crops at the hands of roaming marauders.
But a lack of resources is not the only problem facing Nigerian Christians trying to get an education. Security is also a problem, most famously in 2014 when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 mostly Christian girls from a school in Chibok. Other criminal groups have followed suit, targeting schools in particular since desperate parents are especially willing to pay ransoms.
Roughly a thousand schoolchildren were kidnapped in the first half of 2021 alone from a range of schools including government, Muslim, and Christian institutions. When attackers kidnapped over 120 students from Bethlehem Baptist school in Kaduna, authorities shut down thirteen mostly Christian schools in response, citing fears that they could have been targeted next.
In the weeks following that kidnapping, parents of the children gathered funds to pay the roughly $1,200 USD ransoms demanded by the kidnappers. Sums like these can be devastating to the families, sending them into a financial tailspin and trapping them in a cycle of poverty that can take years to get out of.
ICC’s work in Christian communities in Nigeria often focuses on this problem of cyclical poverty. Working with community leaders, ICC helps to establish sustainable sources of income in impacted communities. Often this takes the form of large communal farms, as discussed elsewhere in this issue, but it can also mean helping an individual set up a small shop or similar business. In this way, these persecuted individuals can provide for themselves and families even after the original funding has run out.
Though Valatine is currently living in safety away from her village, her family has experienced the violence personally. “In September, the militants kidnapped my brother. They demanded a large ransom and told him to bring me, or they will come for my family again. I had to escape from the village.”
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