KADUNA, Nigeria—The eyes of the West are slowly turning toward Nigeria’s complex agony, but for the family of Abigail Philip, the big news is that “mom is back home.”
Mrs. Philip, a widow and mother of five, and matron of Bethel Baptist High School Academy, spent 92 days as a kidnapped hostage along with her 117 students in a forest hell near Kaduna City.
“She was kept in the bush with the children to assist the bandits calm the children and to assist in taking care of them,” according to a woman who asked for anonymity. “She is still in a very disturbing physical and mental condition, and she had to be taken to where she can properly rest and receive medical attention,” the source added.
After three months in captivity, armed Fulani Muslim bandits released another batch of five students of the academy in Damishi, Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) in Christian Southern Kaduna, central Nigeria, the school management confirmed in a statement Friday. Philip and the children were pushed out of their beds in the early hours of July 5 at gunpoint by scores of men carrying AK 47 rifles.
This brings to 117 the number of Bethel Academy students released after payments of various forms of ransoms by traumatized parents and the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC)—owners of the school—according to statements made to the press since the kidnapping.
War Correspondent Lara Logan referenced the Bethel Baptist Academy kidnapping in her 38-minute special report on the Nigerian crisis on the Fox Nation streaming service of Fox News in late September. The documentary has been excerpted in segments on the YouTube channel of ICON PSJ Media. The thousands of Fulani bandit gangs share a common goal with the ISIS insurgency known as Boko Haram, namely the full Islamization of Nigeria, in Logan’s analysis.
Another 10 Bethel students remain captives in the forest, according to Rev Joseph Hayab, chairman, of Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
“They still refused to release all of the remaining 10 hostages,” Hayab said to The Epoch Times in an interview on Oct. 9. “They said that they will need another parting sum before releasing the rest, and we have almost exhausted all our help channels. The only good news is that the kids are alive,” he said.
The ransom that has been paid to the kidnappers is unknown. Hayab said that additional ransom had to be hurriedly paid on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 but did not mention the amount.
Some of the students have also managed to escape at various times from their captives, Hayab said.
Confirming the release of the students and Matron Philip, Rev. Dr. Israel Akanji, President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, in a brief statement on Oct. 8, 2021, said: “Glory be to God! Five of our Bethel Baptist High School students and the matron, making six, have just been released to us this evening, Oct. 8. We thank God and trust that the remaining four students will also be released. Thank you for your prayers and support.”
“They were supposed to have released all the students last Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, based on our agreements with them,” Hayab said. “But these people are not men of honor, because they always shift on agreements reached.”
“They may have changed their minds, because a female student managed to escape that Saturday morning [Oct 2] and that angered them seriously,” he said, without giving any details of the girl and how she escaped from the well-guarded camp. For five days after the girl’s escape, the bandits ceased their regular communication with negotiators, according to Hayab.
“We have united her to her family,” Hayab added.
“Some other students have also escaped at various times, but for security reasons, we add them as among those who were released,” he said.
The Epoch Times reported July 8 how 15 of the kidnapped students made daring breakaways from their abductors.
“We panicked and kept praying that the worst had not happened to the rest of the captives,” he said. “They then made contact on Thursday and explained that they had to move their hostages to a hideout where they had found a suitable and reliable telephone network.”
The Kaduna State Government in the last week of September ordered the suspension of all telephone network services to some counties worst affected by violence.
Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs explained that the controversial directive was aimed at cutting off communication between violent criminals in the bush from their informants and collaborators outside their camps.
Christian-owned schools have been hit by a wave of kidnapping of mass abductions since late 2019, which has included the murder of some hostages.
On Oct. 3, 2019, armed Fulani gunmen invaded The Engravers College, Kakau Daji, on the outskirts of Kaduna metropolis, in Chikun Local Government Association (LGA) and made away with six teenage pupils and two staff. They were later released after the payment of an undisclosed ransom two weeks later. The Fulani are a Muslim tribe implicated in kidnappings and violence against Nigerian Christians.
On March 11th, 2021, armed men, who were later confirmed to be bandits from the Fulani tribe, made a spectacular invasion of a Federal School of Forestry, Afaka, in Igabi LGA, of Kaduna state. The school, with a majority-Christian student body, lies just a quarter mile from the military barracks of the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA). The invaders took away 39 students, only two of whom were not Christians.
The last of the students was released after 55 days.
The exact ransom paid has never been confirmed, but the kidnappers are reported to have asked for $840,000 ( ₦500 million) for the students’ freedom.
There was a national outrage after video that went viral showed the kidnapped Afaka Forestry students undergoing torture under subhuman conditions.
A month after the Afaka abduction, April 21, 2021, armed Fulani Muslim bandits invaded Greenfield University, approximately12 miles away from Kaduna City and kidnapped 23 students, all Christians.
Five of the students were murdered, to drive home the ruthlessness of the kidnappers and the seriousness of their demands for a huge ransom, which demand was reportedly at $1.4 million (₦800 million).
The rest were eventually set free after 39 days of traumatizing negotiations with the parents and university management.