SOKOTO, Nigeria, March 14 (Compass Direct News) — Beginning in November of last year, 13-year-old Victor Udo Usen, a member of the Christ Apostolic Church in this northern Nigeria city, went missing.
On February 20, news that young Victor was spotted in a Muslim neighbor’s house jolted his family. A young Christian girl had raced to the Usens” home in the Mabera area of Sokoto city with the news.
Victor’s mother, Esther Udo Usen, told Compass that she ran to the house where her son had been seen. She met him, however, even as he was making frantic efforts to escape from the house where he has been held incommunicado for six months.
“I quickly held his hands and dragged him along with me towards our house,” she said. “But within a twinkle of an eye, I heard shouts of “˜Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar [God is great]!” I was shocked as I saw a large number of Muslims rushing towards us.”
The mob surrounded them and snatched her son away from her, she told Compass with tears in her eyes. Before she could send for her husband, who was not home at the time, members of the mob told her that her son was now a Muslim and that she and her husband were no longer his parents.
“They abducted him in November last year, and I only saw him today,” she told Compass. “How can someone force my son into his religion?”
Victor’s father, Udo Usen, told Compass that when he received the distressed call from his wife, he rushed home only to discover that the boy had been abducted anew.
“I thought, “˜If I force myself into the house of that Muslim to get my son, I will not only be placing the lives of my family at risk but also creating room for them to attack other Christians in Sokoto,– Usen said.
Instead, Usen contacted his pastor, and together they reported the matter to other Christian leaders — as well as to police and the state security service.
“The police told us that they cannot do anything at the moment until the Sultan of Sokoto, the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, returns from his trip,” he said. “They have held this boy for six months without our consent. They have forced him into Islam. How can they do this to a 13-year-old child?”
Kidnapped and Converted
Esther Thomas Tambari, a Christian neighbor of the Usens, corroborated the facts of the abduction to Compass. “The Muslims, we learned, have changed Victor’s name to Abdulkarim,” she said.
Tambari said the Muslims had also threatened her son, Simon Thomas Tambari, several times.
“When the Usens had their son abducted, as a Christian I had concern for them and decided to help in any way I can to enable them to find their son,” Tambari said. “I took Victor’s mother to my pastor, who in turn asked her to report the matter to the police. Now the Muslims are after my son, Simon, and me. My landlady, who happens to be a Muslim, has threatened me with ejection from her house, and my son’s life is at stake.”
The Usens are not the only Christian family in Sokoto who have had one of their children abducted and forced into Islam; Christian leaders there say abduction of teenage Christian boys and girls has become a common phenomenon in majority-Muslim Sokoto state.
“Sometimes Muslims force our young boys and girls into Islam,” said Kevin Aje, Roman Catholic Bishop of Sokoto. “These are some of the challenges facing Christians here in Sokoto.”
The Rev. Reuben Yaro, chairman of the Sokoto district of the Evangelical Church of West Africa, has received reports of child abduction. In one case, Muslims forcefully took away a son and a daughter from a family in his church because the mother was a convert from Islam, he said.
“She gave her life to Christ, eventually got married to a Christian man and the marriage was blessed with the two kids,” Yaro said. But intense persecution followed, he said, with Muslims abducting the children and placing them in the custody of a Muslim cleric.
“The two children have been forced into Islam and are receiving Islamic education,” he said.
The Islamists also seized the mother of the two children — her fate is unknown — and forced the father to leave Sokoto in order to save his life, Yaro said.
Yaro said he has reported another case of kidnapping and forced conversion to the Christian Association of Nigeria, Sokoto state chapter, which is investigating it.
Pastor Tayo Atiniku, Secretary of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Sokoto state chapter, also corroborated claims of abductions of teenage Christian boys and girls in Sokoto. He cited two examples.
“Grace, a girl, 17 years old, was three years ago abducted by the Muslims here,” Atiniku said. “Her parents are members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God here in Sokoto, and her whereabouts are still unknown.”
Another Christian girl, daughter of a Christian police officer in Talata Mafara town, also was recently abducted, forced into Islam and married off to a Muslim man without the consent of her parents, he said.
“It took the father the use of a gun for him to rescue her from these Muslims,” Atiniku added.
Christian leaders are worried that the kidnapping trend is on the increase, creating tensions between Muslims and Christians.
The Nigerian government, they concur, knows of the abductions but has done nothing to protect Christian children from religious predators.