A 14-year-old Christian schoolgirl was abducted by a Muslim man and forced to convert to Islam before marrying him as Northern Nigeria's child marriage laws continue to go unchecked by the country's leadership.
According to a report from World Watch Monitor, Habiba Isiyaku, from Wawar Kaza village, Kankara Local Government Area, in the mainly Muslim state of Katsina, was abducted in August while returning home from school. She was eventually married to one of her abductors, Jamilu Lawal, and the union was allegedly agreed by the Emir (ruler) of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumuni Usman, who was said to have collected 50,000 Naira [about US$160] as dowry from Lawal, a member of staff in the Emir's palace.
Habiba's father, Isiyaku Tanko, shared the story of his daughter's abduction on a satellite TV station (AIT) and called on the authorities, human rights groups, and Nigerians to assist him to secure her release.
"My little girl was abducted...on her way from school. After my investigations, I discovered that Jamilu Lawal, who lives in our community, was responsible for my daughter's disappearance".
He reported the kidnapping to Police Commissioner in Katsina and a meeting between him and the abductors, along with his daughter, was held in the office of the police chief. However, while the police commissioner condemned the act, he didn't arrest the culprits nor was his daughter released to her father. Instead, she was taken back the palace of the Emir.
Tanko said when he went to the palace to demand her release, the Emir informed him that his daughter had been converted from Christianity to Islam and that there was no longer any relationship between him and Habiba.
"The Emir further informed me that he had received the sum of N50,000 as dowry from Jamilu Lawal for my daughter and that he would give her in marriage in accordance with Islamic rites and injunctions.
"He accused me of defaming him at the police station and I was intimidated and coerced to sign an apology drafted on my behalf by palace officials", Tanko added.
Katsina state police commissioner, Usman Abdullahi confirmed the case, but said an investigation had absolved Jamilu Lawal of any criminal act.
"It was gathered that the girl was neither kidnapped, abducted nor procured, as she was the one who willingly left her parents' house for the house of the Chairman of Hisbah [a police force that enforces Sharia law], who took her to their village head and later to the district head of Kankara, where she explained that she had converted to Islam".
The National Secretary of CAN, Rev. Musa Asake, blamed government and law enforcement agencies for not doing enough to address the problem of child marriage in the country and lamented the fact that Muslims are able to persecute Christians with impunity.
"It is an unfortunate situation. This has been going on in the north. In fact, our Christian girls are abducted but nothing is done about it," he said. ''It is so sad that, while we are praying to live in peace, the other side is not showing a sign of peace. I don't know where it is in the religion that teaches that they can take someone's daughter, convert her from Christianity to Islam and marry her off."
Rev. Asake continued: ''I also want to make it very clear: if it were Christians doing this to Muslim girls, Nigerians would have been burnt to ashes. So, to me, it is a total disrespect and a complete disobedience of the law of the land and the law of God."
Nigeria is ranked #12 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution. WWM notes that abduction, forced conversion and forcible marriage of Christian minors is particularly prevalent in northern Nigeria, where Islam is the main religion. Oftentimes, parents seeking the release of abducted daughters are generally informed they have converted, married and are in the custody of local traditional rulers.
Earlier this year, it was reported that many of the 270 Christian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok State Secondary School in northeast Nigeria in 2014 were married off to their captors. Recently, one of the girls, Maryam, was found by soldiers screening escapees from Boko Haram's base in the Sambisa forest, and was carrying a 10-month-old baby boy she named Ali when the soldiers found her.
Bring Back our Girls, campaigning for the release of Chibok school girls, stated Maryam was number 198 on its register of the kidnapped girls and comes from Askira Uba, and was abducted along with her twin - who is yet to return. Maryam and her child are currently at the unit's medical facility for proper medical check-up, Irabor said.