Parents, priests cry in a marathon prayer session for 121 kidnapped pupils. Following the Kaduna abduction of 121 students of Bethel Baptist High School, the Nigerian Baptist Convention said it had started organizing prayers in all Baptist churches in Nigeria and abroad. The President, Nigerian Baptist Convention, Revd Israel Akanji, said this in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, which he said was the last day of the Baptist World Alliance.
Akanji said the alliance comprised 127 countries of the world and that the event was held via Zoom, a virtual meeting platform.
The clergy said at the event hosted by Brazil, the 127 countries that make up the Baptist World Alliance were informed of the abduction of students of the Bethel Baptist High School.
Asked what efforts the Baptist Church had made so far, the clergy said, “You know that we are a church and once we are in any difficulty, the first point of call is to God in prayer. Therefore, we have been organizing prayer all over the Baptist Church in Nigeria and all over the world.
“In terms of publicity (of the abduction), all over Nigeria, it is known. Every state is aware and the Baptist World Alliance is also aware.
“In fact, Elijah Brown, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, has made a kind of press statement in which he spoke about the abduction of the students in Nigeria. He condemned this act that has been going on in Nigeria and especially the kidnapping of the students of our Baptist High School.”
Despite the attack, Akanji said the Baptist Church would not be intimidated, noting that the Church would continue to provide quality education. According to him, the Baptist Church has for the past 166 years operated secondary schools in Nigeria.
He said, “One thing we have been letting everybody know is that the Baptist denomination has given education to Nigeria since 1855. For 166 years now, the Nigerian Baptist Convention has been providing education.
“Our first institution is the Baptist Academy in Lagos, which is still an institution to reckon with today and has produced great men and women for Nigeria. And the Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta, Ogun State, produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Chief MKO Abiola. These are people who greatly impacted Nigeria.
“Now, in our history, this is the first time in 166 years that a Baptist school would be raided and the students kidnapped. It had never happened. So we believe in the strength of our history. By calling the Almighty God, our students shall be returned to us.”
“So we are thinking that having called on God and on our track record as a denomination providing education for this nation without ceasing for 166 years, we deserve that our students should be brought back,” he added.
Akanji said he had spoken with the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, who he said promised to do everything possible to secure the students’ release.
Asked if the Baptist Church would engage Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi in leading mediation talks with the bandits to free the kidnapped students, Akanji said the church would not stop parents from seeking Gumi’s help.
He said, “On the issue of talking to Sheikh Gumi, well, you know that when people are desperate when people are in trouble because you are talking of a school where 121 students cannot be accounted for… These 121 students have parents and family members who are very concerned.
“In fact, some parents slept in the school compound, praying all night that the children should be back. The parents can do what they like. And if they have been going around looking for one kind of assistance or the other, we will not know the extent but as a church, we have only been speaking to the government and insisting that the government should bring our children back because the security of lives is in the hands of the government.
“I cannot stop anybody who goes to anybody to look for help because as I said, these children have parents, and we cannot stop them. They are at liberty to go wherever they want. But you are asking me as a church and I am saying that in our church, we have not taken that decision that we are going to Gumi. We have not.”
Students of the Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna were the latest victims of kidnapping in the Northwestern state.
The victims, mostly in Senior Secondary Schools 2 and 3, were kidnapped after bandits around 1 am on Monday invaded their school disguising as military personnel.
A day after the kidnapping, the bandits reportedly reached out to the school management, demanding foodstuffs including 30 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, and 10 kegs of palm oil, to feed their captives.
It was learnt that the students’ parents and school management had raised money to buy the foodstuffs following the bandits’ threats to starve the students if the foodstuffs were not supplied.
The bandits have yet to demand any ransom.
Meanwhile, Kaduna State in recent times has become a hotbed of attacks on schools and kidnapping of students by criminal gangs called bandits.
Bandits had in April kidnapped 29 students and two staff of Greenfield University at Kasarami, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Five of the students were later killed by the bandits while the rest were released on May 29.
The incident came about six weeks after bandits on March 11 attacked the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State and kidnapped 39 students. The students were released after about two months in the kidnappers’ den.
The latest attack on Bethel Baptist High School has generated criticism on the inability of the government to secure the schools even as The PUNCH recently reported that no fewer than 348 students were still being held by bandits.
Out of the 348 students, three categories numbering 227 had been languishing in bandits’ dens many weeks after they were abducted from their schools in Niger, Kebbi and Kaduna states.
Parents of the Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna State held a four-hour prayer session on Friday to seek God’s face for their children’s release from bandits.
In tears, the parents converged on the school premises located along the Kaduna-Kachia Highway in Chikun Local Government Area of the state and asked God to take over the matter.
The parents and sympathizers specifically prayed to God to touch the abductors’ hearts and release the 121 students in their custody unconditionally.
Organized by the Kaduna Baptist Conference, speakers at the event encouraged parents and the school management to remain strong and not lose hope during their trying period.
The President, Nigerian Baptist Convention, Rev’d Israel Akanji, said the church wouldn’t be intimidated over the attack on its school, noting that the mission would continue to provide quality education for the country’s development – saying over the years, the Baptist Church had been in the vanguard of providing education in Nigeria.
He said, “We don’t have security. Therefore, I call on the Governor of Kaduna State [Mallam Nasir El-Rufai] to ensure that the students are released. When I spoke with him, he made a promise, and I’m trusting God that he will keep to his word in ensuring the students’ release.
Also, the Chairman, Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev’d John Hayab, lamented the insecurity in the state.
“We will not be intimidated. If the government was putting bandits on the run, they would not have the mind to be asking for food,” he said.
The President, Kaduna Baptist Conference, who is also the Proprietor of the Bethel Baptist High School, Rev’d Ishaya Jangado, said Christians in the state were under pain.
“Over 400 Christians have been kidnapped from January till date. We did everything the government asked us to do. They are sinking us into economic danger day by day,” he said.
In her brief remarks amid tears, the school principal, Mrs. Florence Tuga, urged mothers to pray and seek God’s intervention while touching their breasts and wombs.
(Text excluding headline, courtesy Saturday PUNCH)