Following the alleged raid by Department of State Security (DSS) on a house located at JMDB quarters, in the Tudun Wada community of Jos North LGA of Plateau State, where the operatives purportedly rescued 21 young people, including almajirai, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) has denied allegations made by a media house that it was forcing Muslims to convert to Christianity.
The Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), while confirming the incident, told Daily Trust in a story published last Monday, that the rescued victims told the group during interrogation that they were forcefully brought to the house and converted to Christianity.
But in a response on Thursday, the President of Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) accused the newspaper of tweaking what transpired to create religious tension.
In a statement titled, Never Trust Daily Trust, Dr. Stephen Baba Panya, wrote:
“The attention of the leadership of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), has been drawn to some distorted media report that the Department of State Security, (DSS) agents raided one of our facilities in Jos where 21 Muslims/almajiris are held hostage and being forcefully converted to Christianity. These reports are not only false and misleading but a deliberate effort to discredit the church and cause religious crisis.
“Accordingly, we wish to present the following facts on the allegation:
“Among numerous ECWA Units is the ECWA Discipleship Unit established under the ECWA Church-Related Ministries Department of the ECWA Headquarters.
“The Unit, among other activities, Trains the less privileged in the society for capacity building, skill acquisition, Christian Ethics and leadership skills with the sole purpose of making them relevant to the society.
“Equips the trainees, upon completion of their one year training, with tools that will help them in establishing themselves.
“For lack of space at the ECWA Headquarters, the office acquired a private property within Tudun Wada residential area in Jos as a temporary site for the training and housing of all trainees.
“The trainees at the property, before being enrolled, are expected to provide the name of their sponsors and pay a mandatory sum of N75,000.00 to cover feeding and training fees.
“As a practice, the Unit maintains a file for each student containing his or her personal data.
“Trainees at the facility, as a matter of policy, are all adults with none falling below the age of Eighteen (18).
“Trainees are free to withdraw from the training once they are dissatisfied with either the policies or the condition of the facility. Management also has the right to withdraw a trainee on grounds of infringement of the rules and regulations of the facility.
“The Unit from its inception, has graduated over Eighty-six (86) trainees spread across different parts of Nigeria with various skills.
“Prior to June 14, 2022, the property accommodated twenty-four (24) trainees with a list of pending applicants waiting for space for enrolment.
“The ECWA Church-Related Ministries Department was shocked over the false allegations said to have emanated from the “escapee” Abdulrahman Hussaini that the trainees at the property are citizens that were forcefully brought to it for the purpose of forcefully converting them to Christianity.
“These allegations are complete falsehood because the trainees being persons of age, are available at any time for Government Officials to interact with, to hear their respective stories, just as was done by the Department of State Services (DSS) recently.
“Following a report by the JNI in Jos as we later understood, the DSS visited our facility and accordingly interviewed the occupants who freely disclosed to the security agents that they enrolled on the program at their own volition and were not forced, except Abdulrahman Hussaini’s brother who opted to leave with his brother Abdulrahaman and were released to the DSS without any excitation. What is clear in this drama, is that the Hussaini brothers were planted as moles for the purpose of discrediting the good works of the church unit where thousands of trainees have benefited and are now living as responsible members of the society. What is more, Trainees are given two weeks break six months after their stay in the facility to get back and prepare for the final lap of their training. It is of the moment to note that the Hussani brothers have gone on this break and returned on their own volition.
“ECWA, as an organization, has a widespread nationally and internationally and believes in the Rule of Law and will not involve itself in the infringement of the Fundamental Rights of any Nigerian to his freedom of religion, movement, or association.
“The above are the facts the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) has offered. Any other insinuations and/or accusations such as has been made viral on the media space are FABRICATED LIES to dent the good works of ECWA since the past 129 years of its existence.”
The General Secretary of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, had told Daily Trust days ago the house which was raided by the DSS was under the custody of the church but denied that it was used to convert people to Christianity, adding the claim should be discarded.
Daily Trust reports that the DSS raided the house on June 14, and recovered the victims, who were said to have been brought to Jos from another state.
The raid of the house, according to the JNI’s Director Aid Group Plateau State chapter, and Chief Security Officer, Jos Central Mosque, Danjuma Khalid, came after one of the victims, Abdulrahman Usaini, who escaped from the house, reported that they had been camped in the house for eight months.
Khalid said the DSS operatives raided the house following JNI’s report.
“On June 13, a group of people including Abdulrahman who ran away from the house met me here in the Central Mosque saying that they had come to report an issue regarding forceful adoption and conversion of their pupils to Christianity by ECWA Church in Jos.
“While narrating the incident, the escapee told me that he and one other, Nura Usama, were forcefully taken by some individuals in a Camry Toyota Car from Gombe, to ECWA headquarters, Jos, and after being documented, they were later taken to a house at Tudun Wada, where they were camped, and that he had ran away, leaving his brother, Nura at the house.
“On June 14, we reported the case to the DSS, Plateau State command, and the escapee narrated to the DSS how they were taken from Gombe to Jos and how he escaped from the house in Tudun Wada area. Immediately after we reported the matter, the DSS swung into action. The operatives of the command went to the house in Tudun Wada alongside the escapee, stormed the premises and rescued 21 children.”
He said when the victims were brought to the DSS State Command, two of the victims – Abdulrahman Usaini and Nura Usama – were handed over to JNI, the uncle to Abdulrahman, and their teacher, while the remaining victims were left under the custody of the DSS until their parents or relatives were found.
How we were brought from Gombe to Jos – Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman, who is originally from Azare, in Bauchi State, said he was taken to Gombe town for Qur’anic school, from where he was taken to ECWA Church in Jos.
He said sometime in October 2021, while returning to his school located around Pantami area, they were called by some individuals who asked them to wash their car (a Toyota Camry), but they told them that it was already night, but they were immediately shoved into the car.
“They took us to ECWA Church Tumfure, in Gombe, and we spent three weeks there. They told us on the last day of the three weeks that we should get ready to travel to Jos. By 4am of that very day, we were already on the road and by 9am, we arrived at the ECWA Headquarters in Jos. I didn’t know Jos; that was my first time of coming to Jos.
“We told them to take us back to Gombe because our parents didn’t know our whereabouts. They refused, and a day after, they moved us to a house in Tudun Wada where we spent eight months. Throughout the period, we were taught Christian religious knowledge. We were taught different subjects that have to do with Christianity, but we were well taken care of. Whatever you needed, they provided us with it. Food was always available.
“After spending six weeks, we were taken to ECWA Good News located around Ahmadu Bello Way for church service and other church activities.”
Abdulrahman further said on June 13, he was able to escape from the house after he scaled the fence and ran to the town, pleading with people to help him return to Azare in Bauchi State. He was later taken to the Chairman of Cabbage section of Faringada Market, Adamu Alhaji Adamu, who also hails from Azare town.
Those found were not forcefully brought to the house – ECWA
The Secretary General of the Church, while responding to the matter, told Daily Trust that those who were found in the house were not forcefully brought there as claimed by the victims, saying the claims were probably made to tarnish the image of the church. He said the church was not converting anybody to Christianity.
He said: “There is nothing close to that. ECWA is a global organisation and is involved in a lot of projects. We have healthcare institutions, spiritual welfare, empowerment and so on.
“That house that was raided is one of the places we have and used it to help people irrespective of their ethno-religious affiliations. The place is just like a school where somebody has to bring you. We don’t accept anybody below 18 years. We charged people money for admitting you into the school. We train them on different businesses. You will spend one year before you graduate.”
Asked if the DSS told the church why they raided the house and rescued 21 persons, the secretary general said: “The DSS may be in the best position to respond to this question. They probably don’t know what the house is meant for and you know that DSS will not tell you everything.”
On the issue of the escapee (Abdulrahman) and his brother, Nura Usama, who were brought from Gombe, Rev. Nmadu said: “The two of them don’t have to run because they have been there for seven months. One of the policies of the house is that whoever is tired of the programme, he can leave at his will. He has no reason to run because we were not the ones that brought him.”
Asked how much is being charged for enrolment into the programme, said he did not know. “There is someone who should know much about the registration fee. It is a global organisation. So, we have lots of institutions. I only know that the place is being run, but I can’t give you the details of the registration fee.”
He also said he did not know those who brought the two brothers to the house from Gombe. “I won’t know because I am not working with the students and I don’t know much about what the DSS found after interrogating the two persons you are talking about.”
They left home since October last year — Victims’ teacher
Malam Muhammad Misbahu, a resident of Bomala community in Akko LGA of Gombe State, who is the teacher of Abdulrahman and Nura in Gombe, explained how the students who were brought to him to acquire Qur’anic knowledge disappeared since October last year.
He said: “Between October 15 and 20 last year, we tried all we could to find out their whereabouts but couldn’t. I called their parents in Azare to ask if they had travelled home without my consent, and they told me that none of them had returned. We were worried and engaged in prayers.”
Misbahu said on June 13, he was called that his students had been found and the DSS wanted to see him to ensure the affected victims were really his students.
“When I arrived in Jos, myself, the director of JNI Aid Group, and Adamu Alhaji Adamu, an uncle to Abdulrahman, went to the DSS command in Jos. We were told that my students including other people were found in a house in Tudun Wada. They handed them to us on the condition that whenever the DSS is looking for them, I will come along with them, and I agreed.”
Efforts to get official confirmation of the operation from the DSS headquarters in Abuja proved abortive as calls to the mobile phone of the spokesman, Peter Afunanya, were declined.
He directed one of our correspondents to send a text message or WhatsApp message, but none of the messages was replied to when this report was filed.
▪︎ Additional reports Daily Trust