Couple’s Ordeal Highlights Injustices Faced by Christians in Northern Nigeria

Church leaders jailed without trial for three years.

Alliance Defending Freedom International legal counsel Sean Nelson. (ADF International)

Alliance Defending Freedom International legal counsel Sean Nelson. (ADF International)

ABUJA, Nigeria (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – The ordeal of a pastoral couple jailed without trial for three years for taking in a runaway Muslim girl shows the injustices that Christians suffer in northern Nigeria, church leaders said.

The Rev. Jonah Gangas and his wife Josephine, pastors of an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) congregation in Kaduna state, were acquitted of all charges in March after authorities arrested them in 2020 on false kidnapping charges, jailed them without trial and refused to grant them bail, rights advocates said.

“The world needs to know that Christians in Nigeria are not free to worship as it is assumed,” the Rev. Jerry Faruk of ECWA Plateau Church told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Our hope is in God, but we need someone to help deal with cases like this one.”

In 2013 the Christian couple took in a runaway, 12-year-old Muslim girl – at the request of police – allowed her to live with them for seven years and funded her education. After she returned home, an Islamic organization incited her family to report the couple to authorities with accusations of kidnapping and “proselytizing,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, which supported the pastors’ defense.

After many delayed hearings, the High Court of Justice of Kaduna state released its decision, fully acquitting the couple of wrongdoing for lack of evidence, according to ADF International legal counsel Sean Nelson.

“The decision from the court states that, ‘the prosecution has not disclosed a prima facie case,’” Nelson said in a press statement. “For simply helping this young girl, and taking her in during a moment of need, they were punished, prosecuted and imprisoned. We are pleased that the court has sided with Rev. and Mrs. Gangas, and we hope that this decision will positively impact other Christians and religious minorities in the country who are being unjustly punished for their faith, as well.”

Sunny Akanni, an allied attorney of ADF International and lead attorney on the case, said she was relieved at the outcome.

“Christians in Nigeria are unfairly discriminated against for their faith, and we need all who are able to continue to raise their voices in support of religious freedom for all Nigerians,” Akanni said in a press statement. “It is my prayer that soon all Nigerians will be able to worship and share their faith freely and without fear of retribution.”

Pastor Faruk said Nigeria needs more Christian attorneys willing to help fight such injustices.

“May Christian lawyers be willing to help Christians who are wrongfully accused, persecuted or imprisoned,” he said. “I also hope that Christian legislators will rise to their responsibilities to make laws that protect the citizens and guarantee justice to all.”

The Rev. Gideon Para-Malam, a Christian rights advocate and head of the Para-Malam Peace Foundation, said education for girls is a precious social commodity in some communities of Nigeria and should not be impeded by such injustices.

“This young girl desired education, and it was the main motivation in her action,” Para-Malam said. “A good Samaritan, as it were, mentioned this need to the Gangas, and they became a medium of uncommon generosity. The Gangas ought to be celebrated for being compassionate to humanity rather than vilified by being charged to court.”

In this case, religion was manipulated to create a controversy or scandal where there should have been none, Para-Malam said.

“She needs help to continue with her educational thirst and drive – she needs to be supported to complete her education to university level,” he said. “Her biological parents should support her in this quest and not be persecuting her and the Gangas. This girl isn’t a wayward child but an educationally hungry woman.”

The legal effort defended not only the girl but Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB), he said.

“Northern Nigeria is notorious for defying FoRB – that is where the challenge lies in this matter,” Para-Malam said. “The court needs to not only discharge the case but make a pronouncement on the freedom to believe for this young girl. She’s now 19, and her dignity to choose the religion of her choice at this age needs to be respected. This girl went back home on her own. Her parents should reason with her and respect her wishes.”

In the 2024 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria was ranked No. 6, as it was in the previous year.

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