When the 50-year-old church elder and leader of Kano state's Samaila village heard gunshots shortly before midnight, he rushed out of his house to try to find security agents.
It was a natural reaction for Mai'angwa Samaila, given recent Islamist attacks in northern Nigeria. What the elder for the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) did not know was that the armed Islamic extremists, having killed two Christians in front of their Catholic church building, were coming for him next.
Not finding him at home that night (Aug. 15), they instead kidnapped his wife, Safiya Samaila, 45. They then kidnapped two other women, 20-year-old Yaha Gabriel and Hauwa Bebi, 18, both members of the St. Michael's Catholic Church in Samaila, in Tudun Wada Local Government Area (LGA).
Such kidnappings, along with threats of massacres by Islamic extremists, are continuing with the approval of some state officials in a concerted effort to eliminate Christianity, church leaders said.
Mai'angwa Samaila told Morning Star News how the killing of Yohanna Audu, 45, and Audu's son, 18-year-old Micah Yohanna Audu, and the kidnappings were carried out. The gunmen first went to St. Michael's Catholic Church, where Yohanna Audu, a church member whose house is beside the Catholic building, went outside.
"He went to find out who were the men on the premises of the church at that time of the night when they shot him, and he died instantly," Samaila said. "His son, who heard the sound of the gunshot, ran out to find out what had happened since his dad had just gone to the church; he too was shot and killed."
The armed Muslim extremists then went through the village to kidnap the three women, starting with his wife.
"As the shooting and capturing of the women was going on, some residents in our village rushed to the Catholic church and rang the church's bell, alerting others on the attack on the village," he said. "This forced the armed Muslim men to beat a retreat. This saved so many lives that would have perished during the attack."
As the gunmen retreated, they shot at those who had run to the church building, Samaila said.
"The three women kidnapped were taken away," he said. "I frantically called on heads of security agencies in our area, the police and army, but I was told that they were unable to come to our aid because their vehicles had no fuel or were in bad working condition."
The gunmen contacted him and others the following day, demanding 10 million naira (US$27,510) for the release of the women, he said.
"We pleaded with them to release the women, but they refused," he said. "They threatened to kill the women unless we paid the ransom. We had no other option than to tax ourselves and pay the money."
The gunmen accepted 3 million naira (US$8,253) and released the women a week later, on Aug. 22, Samaila said. He and others recovered them in the Falgore Forest.
"We believe that Christian communities here are being persecuted because of our faith," he said. "The government is aware about such invasions of Christian communities but has not done anything to put an end to the menace. The sad thing is that it is only Christians that are being killed or kidnapped in our area, as there was never any Muslim community attacked or a Muslim kidnapped."
Morning Star News found that kidnappings of Christians in the Tudun Wada area have forced many Christians to flee, while many others continue to receive text messages and letters threatening massacres in their villages if no payments are made to kidnappers.
Haruna Samaila, a Christian who has received persistent phone threats from Islamic extremists, played recorded phone conversations he had with them.
"They threatened that unless I pay them 3 million naira [US$8,253], I will be killed," he told Morning Star News. "I reported the threats to our church leaders, and they asked me to report the matter to police. When I did so, I was instead arrested by the police and detained. It took the intervention of our church leaders to get me released."
Church leaders threatened to sue police for illegally detaining him, Samaila said.
"I will never allow them to kidnap me alive, they just have to kill me," Samaila he said. "The government is insensitive to our plight. This is a conspiracy against us Christians in Kano. Those in authority and government know those armed Muslims carrying out these attacks against us, and that is the reason they are not concerned about our plight. It is a battle against Christianity and Christians in Kano state."
A Christian whose adult son was killed by Islamic extremists in 2016 said he received a threatening letter from the gunmen on Nov. 21.
ECWA member Aminu Sallau, 60, told Morning Star News that a gang of nine Muslim extremists rode into Katsinawa village in the Tudun Wada LGA on motorbikes on Feb. 6, 2016 and shot his son, Usman Aminu, to death.
"Even yesterday [Nov. 21], the gunmen again sent a letter to me saying they were not yet done with me," he said. "They stated in the letter that I should keep aside 3 million naira [US$8,253] for them, as they'll be coming for the money at any time, and that failure on my part to give them the money would mean death for me."
Sallau said he had no money to give them.
"I am prepared to die if that is the only price I have to pay for being a Christian," he said.
Sallau said he narrowly escaped death in the attack that killed his son.
"I was listening to news on the radio when nine armed Muslim men stormed my house," he said. "They came on three motorbikes and started shooting into the air. Three of them pointed their guns at my head and demanded I give them money."
He had 80,000 naira (US$220) in the house and gave it to them.
"The gunmen were not happy that I had only a little money on me, so they tied my hands and legs and were about to take me away when one of them, who was standing guard in front of my house, rushed in to tell his colleagues that he had shot and killed my son, Usman," he said. "On hearing this, I began to cry and shout, and in the midst of the confusion, the gunmen abandoned me and fled."
Usman Aminu's widow, 25-year-old ECWA member Hauwa Usman Aminu, said that her husband had returned from a business trip and had decided to check on his mother in their family home.
"He decided to visit his mom in their family home about 200 meters from our house," she said. "It was there that the gunmen killed him. I heard sounds of gunshots shortly after my husband had gone out and knew that something was wrong."
The Rev. Ayuba Hassan of the ECWA Church, Tudun Wada Dankadai, and chairman of the Tudun Wada Local Area Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said that armed Muslims are carrying out attacks and kidnappings on Christians in order to force them to embrace Islam.
"Christians here are being persecuted for refusing to embrace Islam," he said. "We are constantly under attack. We are not allowed to freely worship as Christians. These kidnappings are aimed at forcing us to recant or make us run away from here so that they can take over our lands and expand Islam's frontiers."
The Rev. Murtala Marti Dangora, vice chairman of the CAN Kano State Chapter, told Morning Star News that Muslim officials in the state government are behind attacks on Christians in the state.
"These attacks are being instigated and supported by the agents of the Muslim-controlled Kano state government to force indigenous Hausa Christians, who we are, to embrace Islam," he said. "Our refusal to do their biddings is what has made them adopt this strategy of kidnappings and attacks in order to force our people to tow their line. This is a jihad against the church of Jesus Christ."
Kano state officials declined to speak with Morning Star News about attacks on Christians in the Tudun Wada LGA. The state police headquarters in Kano, a spokesman confirmed the attacks but declined to speak further, saying only that the cases are being investigated.
Hassan said Christian communities and villages attacked include Samaila (Tuku), Katsinawa, Beguwa, Jarkaya, Gidan Kuzuntu and Jitta Dutse.
"In Beguwa village, on 14 July, 2016, three Christians were kidnapped," he said. "Those kidnapped are Shamaki Ali, Bature Hassan, and Magaji Salisu. A Christian woman was also raped there. The four victims are members of the ECWA Church in Beguwa village."
On the same day in Jarkaya village, another Christian community, three members of the Catholic church were kidnapped, identified only as Abdu, Jamilu and his son, he said.
In Gidan Kuzuntu village, also a predominantly Christian community, Baba Yaji was kidnapped at about 1:30 a.m. on July 12, 2016, and the Rev. Julius Gospel, a Roman Catholic priest, was kidnapped on June 30, 2016, in predominantly Christian Jitta Dutse, the ECWA pastor said.
Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria's population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.