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‘I thank God! I thank God!’—Nigerian pastor freed hours before Boko Haram execution

December 25, 2020 by Global Christian Relief in Africa

Reportedly, on the day of his intended execution, Boko Haram fighters released a video of Pastor Yikura pleading for Nigeria’s national and local government, as well as his family members, to pay his ransom.In the video, a knife-wielding man stood behind Pastor Yikura as he begged: “Anyone who has the intention should help and save me. Please release me from this pain.”

Since he was taken on December 24, 2020, Pastor Yikura had appeared in three videos—released in December, days after his abduction and in January and February. His release came just hours before his scheduled execution. A Premium Times reporter claimed to have seen the pastor being transported to a state security office around 6:15 p.m. local time.

Pastor Yikrua is affiliated with the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Security forces told the Premium Times that Yikura’s family and the EYN church had been negotiating his release since last week.

Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in Nigeria since 2019 as the money funds bandits and Boko Haram, one the world’s deadliest extremist groups. Since December, criminal groups have attacked three schools and kidnapped students, releasing them days later.

Christmas Eve terror

On Christmas Eve, Boko Haram fighters attacked Pemi village in Nigeria’s Borno State, killing at least 11 people, abducting seven people, including Pastor Yikura, and burning down a church. They also looted 10 homes and stole medical supplies from a hospital, before setting it on fire, as well.

A local leader told AFP News that fighters rode in on trucks and motorbikes from the Sambisa Forest, opening fire indiscriminately on the predominately Christian village. Militia leader Abwaku Kabu said the group looted food supplies that were meant to be distributed to residents to celebrate Christmas—food that was likely desperately needed in a country where starving Christians have been denied COVID-19 government relief.

Who is Boko Haram?

A few days before, security officials had warned an attack on Christmas was likely.

Pemi village is only 20 miles from Chibok where the Islamic terrorist group abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in 2014. Nkeki Mutah, chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, told CNN he believes Pemi village was specifically targeted because it is a Christian-majority community.

“Since 2018, virtually every two weeks, Boko Haram has been attacking Chibok, killing and abducting people,” Mutah said. “They want to wipe Chibok out from the surface of the Earth.”

The decades-long Boko Haram insurgency has killed at least 36,000 people and displaced 2 million from their homes, according to the United Nations. The group whose name means “Western education is forbidden” (loosely translated) is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state.

Nigeria ranks as the most violent country in the world for Christians, with Nigerian believers making up the majority of more than 4,000 Christians killed worldwide in 2020.

In December 2020, Nigeria was the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

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Praise God and pray for so many still in captivity

Father, we want to take this time to praise You for the release of Pastor Yikura. It’s so difficult to hear about the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. We ask You to be so near to all our brothers and sisters still in captivity. We ask for Your comfort to surround these families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones in this attack. Jesus, give our family your peace in an area that has become such a target because Your name is proclaimed and worshiped there. We ask that You would give your people strength and the mettle to continue to follow you in the face of so much persecution for their faith. In Your Son’s name, we pray.