A Christian pastor in Nigeria regained freedom last week after eight months of being held captive by Islamic extremists and learned that his wife had just given birth to the couple’s third child, according to a Washington-based international human rights advocacy group.
Rev. Polycarp Zongo was reunited with his family, including his newborn son, in Jos, central Nigeria, over Father’s Day weekend after being in captivity since October 2020.
Zongo of the Church of Christ in Nations was kidnapped by insurgents from the Islamic State West Africa Province, a Boko Haram splinter group, along Maiduguri-Damaturu road while traveling to a church conference.
Zongo appeared in a video not long after the abduction, pleading with the state government to negotiate his release and the release of two Christian women held captive with him.
“I was traveling to Gombe for a church conference when we encountered the caliphate’s armed men who captured me along the way, and right now I’m with them,” Zongo said in the video, pleading for help from the government, the Christian Association of Nigeria and COCIN.
“They too captured two Christian women who are also here with me. I’m appealing that you all do all that is possible to secure our release from captivity,” he said.
The Kalthum for Peace Foundation and the John Pofi Foundation were reportedly instrumental in restoring his freedom, according to the U.S. Nigeria Law Group. The foundations confirmed no ransom was paid for the pastor's release. It is reported that illness factored into the pastor's release.
Upon his release, Zongo partook in a worship service in the capital city and sang, “You are Yahweh Alpha and Omega” by gospel artist Steve Crown. He also laid facedown on the floor in worship, according to a statement shared with The Christian Post.
Emmanuel Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer with the U.S. Nigeria Law Group, commended the terrorists for “showing compassion” in releasing the hostages. But many remain kidnapped.
“I’m not sure if ISWA released captives to celebrate their recent defeat of Boko Haram or because they realized these were genuinely poor people who couldn’t raise a ransom,” Ogebe said in a statement.
“Whatever the case, I commend the terrorists for the compassion they showed in freeing the hostages,” he continued. “I hope that this dialogue can continue and that the new merged BH/ISWA will facilitate the release of the remaining 112 Chibok girls.”
Ogebe also called for the release of Maida Yakubu Tikko, the youngest of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls who will be 23 years old this year.
Over 200 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents in an April 2014 raid on a public school, and more than 100 are yet to be released.
“I commend the Kalthum and John Pofi Foundation for this amazing feat and extend congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Zongo and family for this double blessing and good news,” Ogebe said. “It is amazing that civil society members were able to achieve what the government of Nigeria couldn’t do.”
Nigeria recently became the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department's list of "countries of particular concern" for tolerating or engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Religious persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks Nigeria at No. 9 on the 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for “extreme” levels of Islamic oppression. According to the watchdog group, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, "more Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country."
Critics have accused the Nigerian government of being complicit in terrorist activity, as insurgent groups often experience no accountability for their actions or receive government ransoms for kidnappings even though the government denies paying ransom to terrorists.
Jihadi attacks in West Africa have increased in recent years, with Nigeria as the main target. Islamic terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Fulani militants and ISWAP have killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions of others in an attempt to impose Sharia law, the U.S.-based nonprofit International Christian Concern reports.
A former U.S. congressman recently warned that Nigeria’s situation will develop into a genocide similar to what occurred in Rwanda in 1994 if action is not taken by the international community.
“When the world and the U.S. ignored … genocide in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of people died,” former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said in a panel discussion on Nigeria earlier this month hosted by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“History is repeating itself," Wolf added. "Because of the atrocities in Rwanda that we had ignored, President Bill Clinton flew to Rwanda and apologized to the Rwandan people near the end of his term.”
“If what is happening in Nigeria were happening to nearly any country in Europe, the world would be enraged and engaged. But in Nigeria, there is no action,” Wolf continued.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org