A Nigerian university student who converted from Islam to Christianity has been arrested by state security forces, as has the man who introduced her to Christianity.
Nabila Umar Sanda, 19, is a student at Bingham University in Karu, in the central state of Nasarawa, which is owned by one of Nigeria’s major churches – Evangelical Church Winning All, or ECWA. It was while studying there that she became friends with Simput Dafup, a 33-year-old Christian, who, once she expressed an interest in Christianity, invited her to meet a local church leader, Jeremiah Datim.
Speaking to the press in Jos, capital of neighbouring Plateau state, Datim explained that after the young woman decided to become a Christian, he immediately made contact with the local Islamic organisation, as has become customary.
“I want to state, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice. Miss Nabila told me she is 19 years old and therefore free to choose a religion for herself.”
“Knowing the sensitive nature of conversion from lslam to Christianity, and given that between the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasril lslam (JNI) … there is a working understanding, or protocol, that where such issues or situations arise relating to any of the two religions, the leaders of the affected religion should contact the leadership of the other religion from which the convert is coming, I immediately contacted the leadership of JNI in the state and informed them that I had one Miss Nabila Umar Sanda in my possession and that she had converted to Christianity,” he said.
Datim then went to meet a JNI leader, who made contact with Ms Sanda’s parents. Later that day, Monday 8 January, Datim said detectives from the Department of State Security Services “stormed my house, assaulted my wife, daughter and eight-month-old baby, and took Nabila away”.
Her friend, Simput Dafup, was arrested that same day, and both are still being held in an unknown location.
“I want to state, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice,” Datim said. “Miss Nabila told me she is 19 years old and therefore free to choose a religion for herself.
“After I met Miss Nabila for the first time … I interacted with her and asked her a lot of questions about both the Christian faith and Islamic faith. Nabila clearly said that she had made up her mind to join the Christian faith and was willing to be a Christian no matter what obstacles were placed on her way.
“I understand that her father has said he has all the ‘connections’ in this country to deal with me, Dafup and any other person found to have been involved in the conversion of his daughter to Christianity, and that he will ensure that we rot in jail. l want to state here without fear of contradiction that neither Dafup, myself or any other person that has established contact with Nabila has breached any law of this land.
“I also learnt that Nabila’s father reported to the DSS that we forcefully abducted and brainwashed her into becoming a Christian. l challenge the DSS to produce Nabila and put us side by side so they can ask her if she was forcefully converted to Christianity or abducted or brainwashed.”
Simut Dafup’s mother, Lydia, also addressed the media in Jos, saying: “The men who stormed my son’s premises, heavily armed, in five Hilux vehicles, blocked everywhere and assaulted even passers-by. It has become so worrisome for me to let you know about this, because, as I speak with you now, I don’t know where my son is. Nobody has contacted me or any member of the family as to his whereabouts.
“I however know as a fact that some of the people that were found in the premises of his house, and who were also assaulted and brutalised along with my son, were taken to the Plateau State Command of the DSS in Jos. But these people said they did not see my son there. The DSS men who whisked my son away put a mask on him and the others they took with him.
“As a mother and a widow, l am worried about the safety of my son. I beg you journalists to help me to trace where my son is please.”
Datim added: “They must not only release him immediately, they must ensure that he is in a good state of health, and the DSS must stop the harassment of members of my family or [Dafup’s] family, or any other person allegedly involved in the conversion of Nabila.”