JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A Muslim leader in central Nigeria has abducted a pastor’s daughter and forced her to convert to Islam with the backing of a sharia (Islamic law) court, the church leader said.
Raymond Uzoechina, a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Abuja, told Morning Star News by phone that the Emir or Muslim leader of the Nupe ethnic group in Bida, Niger state, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, abducted his daughter soon after 24-year-old Charity Raymond Uzoechina went to the town in February to study at the Federal Polytechnic-Bida.
After his daughter’s friends notified him that she was missing, he discovered her whereabouts as he made inquiries in the town on March 1– he did not hear of her whereabouts in an invitation from the emir’s aides as the town emirate has claimed, he said.
“After a painstaking search, we found out that she was being held captive in the palace of the Etsu Nupe, the [ethnic Nupe] Muslim leader of the town of Bida,” Pastor Uzoechina said. “I went to the palace, and the Muslim leader told me that my daughter is now a Muslim and that she is under his custody. When I demanded to take her away, the Muslim leader said he would not release her because he said she has been entrusted under his care by an Islamic court, the sharia court in the town of Bida.”
He denied a Nigerian press report in which he was misquoted as saying he was able to see his daughter at the emir’s quarters on March 2.
“Even when we went there, he did not allow us to see her – he only confirmed she is at the palace on the orders of the Islamic court,” Pastor Uzoechina told Morning Star News.
After seeking legal assistance, he was invited back to the Muslim leader’s quarters the week of March 4, he said. During this second visit, only his wife was allowed to see their daughter, and they were not allowed to talk, Pastor Uzoechina said.
“They showed me some documents from the Islamic court requesting that my daughter be kept in the palace,” he said.
The pastor denied the Muslim leader’s version of the second meeting; in a press statement, the Bida emirate claimed Pastor Uzoechina met with his daughter and Abubakar, and that she refused to go home with her father out of fear that he would harm her. Pastor Uzoechina insisted to Morning Star News that the emir refused to let him see his daughter.
Niger is one of 12 states in Nigeria that have adopted sharia. Nine states in northern Nigeria instituted sharia in 2000-2001, and three others – Kaduna, Gombe and Niger – established it only in some areas. Niger adopted sharia in parts of the state in January 2007.
The Pentecostal pastor said he went to the sharia court in Bida to seek justice.
“I engaged the services of an attorney to ask them to bring her to the court so that my attorney can cross-examine her, but they refused to do so,” Pastor Uzoechina said. “I also reported the matter to the police, and she has not been rescued from the enclave six months after I lodged the complaint.”
Police told him the case was already decided by an established Islamic court, and that he should seek legal assistance to challenge the competence of the Islamic court to keep his non-Muslim daughter, he said.
Abubakar, the Muslim leader, maintains that he has legal grounds for keeping Pastor Uzoechina’s daughter in his custody. The sharia court reportedly ruled that it had put her under the “protection” of the Muslim leader because the pastor’s daughter had converted to Islam of her own volition and allegedly said she was afraid her father could kill her.
Strongly denying that his daughter could fear he would harm her, the pastor questioned why the Muslim leader’s quarters should be a facility of “protection”; why she should not be released to police if there were a genuine fear that he would harm her; and why his attorney has not been allowed to question her.
Pastor Uzoechina’s attorney, Anthony Agbonlahor, in March reportedly petitioned a non-Islamic court, the chief judge of Niger state, for the release of the young woman but has yet to receive a response. Agbonlahor filed a complaint with the judge about the conduct of Justice Abdulkadir Idris of Sharia Court 1, reportedly lamenting that the Islamic court failed to notify the pastor of the decisive hearing.
“The case was filed on March 4,” the attorney said in his complaint. “The case was heard March 4 and judgment delivered on the same day. In fact, judgment was also executed on the same date. The question is: why the urgency?”
Pastor Uzoechina said his lawyer has also gone to the sharia court to challenge its jurisdiction over the matter; the Islamic court is expected to issue a ruling on Thursday (Aug. 1).
“This Muslim leader changed the name of my daughter to Aisha, an Islamic name,” he said. “I am sure that my daughter will never embrace Islam. She is being held against her wish and forced into a religion that is alien to us. Charity can never abandon the Christian faith for Islam.”
Pastor Uzoechina said that he has learned that other Christian girls and women are being held captive at Abubakar’s home and forcibly converted to Islam.
“Apart from my daughter, there are so many other Christian girls also that have been kidnapped and are being held at the palace,” he said. “There is need for the police to rescue these Christian girls in that Islamic enclave.”
Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said CAN is involved in trying to resolve the case.
“Our attention has been called to this problem, and we have taken it up with the leadership of the Muslim community,” he said. “It is unfortunate that this is happening.”
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north. But those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
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