Nigerians Miss Nabila Umar Sanda (19) and Engineer Simput Eagles Dafup (33) first met and exchanged contact details in Dubai four years ago. A few years later, as Nabila (then a Muslim) was studying at the Bingham University – a Church-owned university in Karu, in Nigeria’s central Nasarawa State – she decided that she wanted to become a follower of Jesus Christ too. When Nabila learned that Simput Dafup was going to be Jos, Plateau State, over Christmas, she re-connected with him and arranged to meet him there. When Nabila told Simput that she wanted to convert to Christianity, he asked about her family, in particular her father who is a powerful Muslim elder and in traditional title holder in Biu, Borno State. Nabila told Simput that as she was 19-years of age, she was entitled to choose her own religion and would do so regardless of obstacles. But Simput remained concerned, so on Monday 8 January he and Nabila meet with local church leader Pastor Jeremiah Datim. Cognisant of the delicacy of the situation, Pastor Datim decided it was best to follow protocol and contact the Jama’atu Nasril lslam (JNI) to inform them of Nabila’s decision to convert, in the hope they might smooth the way forward. The JNI then contacted Nabila’s parents, after which her father, who has vowed revenge, requested an intervention of the Department of State Security Services (DSS).
Later that day (8 Jan), DSS officers stormed Pastor Jeremiah Datim’s home, assaulted his wife and children and abducted Nabila. They also violently abducted Simput Dafup from his home, and arrested Daniel Hassan, the taxi driver who had driven Nabila from Abuja to Jos. At a press conference in Jos on Saturday 13 January, Pastor Jeremiah Datim clarified the constitutional issue at the heart of the crisis. ‘I want to state,’ he said, ‘for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice.’ Simput Dafup’s widowed mother, Lydia then appealed for information on her son’s whereabouts. ‘My son,’ she said, ‘a quiet gentleman per excellence, was on Monday, January 8, 2018, brutalised, tortured and whisked away from his residence in Jos by men we suspect were from the DSS for allegedly converting one Miss Nabila Umar Sanda from Islam to Christianity’.
Despite the fact that no charges had been laid and no arrest warrants issued, the DSS alleges that Nabila had been abducted in Abuja, held captive in Jos and forcibly converted to Christianity. This echoes the ‘Camilia’ myth promulgated by Islamists in Egypt [see: RLPB 082 (17 Nov 2010)]. The accusation comes as the Voice of Northern Christian Movement of Nigeria (VNCMN) is pressuring the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the abduction of some 100 Christian girls. VNCMN Executive Director, Pastor Kallamu Musa Ali Dikwa explains: ‘Muslims have abducted 100 Christian girls under the age of 18 and forcefully converted them to lslam and we have reported to security agencies severally but no arrest was made or return of Christian girls to their parents . . .’ Thus the whole context mirrors that of Egypt [see: RLPB 398, ‘Bring Back Our Coptic Girls’ (15 March 2017)].
But Nigeria is not Egypt! Nigeria is a democracy with a secular Constitution where Christians comprise at least 51 percent. Tensions are soaring.
DSS IN THE SERVICE OF ISLAM
The DSS operates as a department within the presidency and is under the control of the National Security Advisor. Its mission is to “protect and defend the Federal Republic of Nigeria from domestic threats”. It is also charged with protecting the president and other senior government officials.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has slammed the DSS for its intervention in the conversion case and for acting “as some kind of ‘Islamic religious police’.”
The Rights group has specifically asked “that the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) Alhaji Lawal Musa Daura to be restrained by the National Assembly and the Presidency from interfering in a completely civil and religious rights issues relating to an alleged conversion to Christianity of a female university undergraduate [Nabila Sanda] from her former religion which is Islam, same as that of the current DG of DSS.”
The HURIWA called on the National Assembly to call the DG of DSS “to desist from using public offices to promote and canvass the interests of a particular religious group which are direct affronts to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which absolutely prohibits the elevation of one religion as state religion”.
DSS TARGETS JOS PREACHER
On the evening of Monday 15 January, DSS officers stormed the Jos headquarters of Evangelical Bible Outreach Ministries International (EBOMI) and similarly (i.e. violently and without a warrant) attempted to arrest the General Overseer, Pastor Isa El-Buba. However, their efforts were thwarted when church members gathering for a midnight prayer vigil resisted the invasion and forced the officers to retreat.
El-Buba maintains that the order to illegally arrest him came from President Buhari himself after the government deemed his New Year’s Eve sermon “inciteful”.
In the sermon, which was broadcast nationally, a fired-up El-Buba condemns the Buhari government for its inaction over Fulani terrorism and exhorts Nigerians to get their voter cards and fight back through the polls.
[Nigeria’s presidential, federal and state assembly elections will be held in Feb-March 2019.]
This is not the first time El-Buba has challenged the Buhari government and he is certainly not repentant. “I stand by my words,” he said, stressing that the DSS invasion has not left him feeling afraid or intimidated.
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin brings reproach. I said in my broadcast that the unrighteousness in Nigeria would not do anyone of us any good. And I stand by it.”
Referring to the Fulani terrorism ravaging the Middle Belt – for which he holds the government of Muhammadu Buhari responsible – El-Buba insists the killings must stop. He implores all Nigerians: “Wake up from your sleep and decide your fate,” while making it clear they are to reject violence and obey the law.
Holding up a voter card, he refers to it as the peoples’ weapon with which they can determine their future by voting wickedness out of government.
For this – and despite the fact that no charges had been laid and no arrest warrant issued – the DSS was sent to arrest the fiery preacher.
PRESIDENT PURSUING A PRO-FULANI, ISLAMIST AGENDA
In a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday 16 January, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) publicly condemned the Buhari government, holding it responsible for the gross insecurity plaguing the north. CAN accused President Buhari of serving the interests of ‘his Fulani ethnic group only’ and pursuing an ‘Islamist agenda’.
CAN General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Musa Asake told the media: “The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has reviewed the catalogue of horrendous and inhuman attacks on several states and mostly Benue State from 2013 – 2018. The impression has now been firmly established that the Islamists of northern Nigerian have ‘legalized jihad’ in Nigeria.
“As if the attacks on Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Plateau, Yobe, Borno, Nasarawa, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Rivers, Ogun and Oyo States are not enough, the Islamists and their agents have extended their trail of blood and destruction to Bwari in Abuja and Ilorin in Kwara State. . .”
Dr. Asake noted that Security Agents routinely do not intervene until the [Fulani] attackers have finished their “horrendous assignment”.
“This pattern,” he said, “suggests collusion of the Security Units with the Islamists militia operating under such names as Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, ‘unknown gunmen’, and ‘group of vandals’. On 17th January, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force ‘accidentally’, in broad daylight, bombed a Christian IDP Camp and killed over 200 Christian refugees in Rann, Kala-Balge Local Government in Borno State. In December 2017, an Air Force spokes person confirmed that the Nigerian Air Force sent an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 attack Helicopter to fire ‘warning’ shots at Islamist militia attacking Christians in Numan, Adamawa state, but not to kill them! The villagers were later to report that the Jet actually bombed the Christian villages resulting in the death of over 50 people, while, the Nigerian Air Force said it merely fired warning shots at the Islamist militia attacking the villagers. This is jihad as we cannot understand fired warning shots in the narrative of this attack.”
Dr. Asake claimed President Buhari had “flagrantly violated the Constitution and adopted Sharia ideology as operational standard.
“Having reviewed the situation in the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) wishes to note that some principal entities appear responsible for the current distress in the nation.
“President Buhari was elected on a wave of unprecedented public approval in 2015. Unfortunately, within a few weeks of his election, he started creating the impression that he was in power to serve the interests of his Fulani ethnic group only. Discerning people were quick to note that contrary to his electoral promises, he actually meant to pursue core Islamist agenda. Almost every vital appointment in Security and Education went to Muslims from the North. He did not hide his disdain for the indigenous ethnic nationalities and, at every opportunity, showed preferential treatment to the Muslim North.
“Under President Buhari, the murderous Fulani herdsmen enjoyed unprecedented protection and favoritism to the extent that the herdsmen treat Nigeria as a conquered territory. Rather than arrest and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen, security forces usually manned by Muslims from the North offer them protection as they unleash terror with impunity on the Nigerian people. The bottom line is that President Buhari failed woefully to protect Nigerians. He wilfully permitted the Fulani herdsmen to operate killing people, destroying communities wholesale, destroying farmlands and turning the entire Middle Belt into ‘killing fields’, all the while enjoying government protection from counter attack, arrest or prosecution. . .”
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).