Nigeria’s Kano State Governor converts Christian under-age girl to Islam

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A video showing the Governor of Kano, a state in the far north of Nigeria, leading an under-age Christian girl through the act of becoming a Muslim inside his State Government House has sparked outrage on Nigerian social media.

World Watch Monitor has independently confirmed the video is genuine and the Governor has not denied what it shows: he leads Becky, understood by WWM to be 14-16 years old, in reciting the Islamic ‘shahada’ prayer, as she then accepts Islam.

The power dynamics show two young girls literally hemmed in by an invited media crowd as the Governor and his aide appear to ‘show them off’ during the ‘shahada’ prayer. There is a professional camera light right behind Ganduje shining straight into Becky’s eyes and the constant noise of camera flashbulbs going off throughout the 4’00” video.

A Kano local source, on condition of anonymity, has confirmed the incident happened recently and inside the government house: WWM understands it was sometime in February or March.

However, the Governor Umar Abdullahi Ganduje now claims that the two girls shown were ‘pagan’ (ie. from African traditional religions) without explaining why he thought that might somehow excuse his action.

And he asks the girl – who WWM knows from local sources to be from a Christian village in Kano – to change her name from Becky (short for Rebecca, a Bible Old Testament name) to any female Muslim name. The local source, however, noted that the governor did not ‘force’ anyone to convert to Islam, but that it is people who have been coming to him to be converted.

As quoted in the Nigerian ‘The Whistler’ “He (Ganduje) did it as a governor through his (Ganduje) Foundation. He has been doing this for a long time even before he became the state governor.

“This one, he did it while he was Governor. He didn’t go to them, they came to Government House on their own. She’s not the only one, there are more than a hundred of them,” said the source.

A Nigerian group called Christian Rights Agenda (CRA) has condemned the “forced and provocative conversion” of Christian minor girls by the governor. Its statement, from its interim director of publicity, Tom Chiamen, reads:

“Expending state resources for jihad-inspired conversion of Christian minors by force, tricks, intimidation, threats and all kinds of backward means, is the most annoying insult indigenous Christians of Kano are forced to live with under Ganduje”.

CRA also described the socio-economic conditions for Christians in the sharia law-run state.

“Indigenous Hausa Christians in Kano have been subjugated under Ganduje’s administration and are denied their rights and privileges as citizens. A clear example is the denial of scholarships to Christian students studying in tertiary institutions in and outside Kano State.”

The group says that many Hausa Christians have also been denied employment opportunities and live in perpetual fear as second class citizens in the state.

“Despite clear improvement in infrastructure in Kano, Christian-dominated parts of the metropolis are still in their pre-1999 ruinous conditions….”

And CRA accuses Governor Ganduje of embarking on mass conversion of indigenous Hausa Christians every Friday, using inducement and coercion, since he assumed office in 2015. It threatens to sue the governor and report him to the international community, unless he returns the girls to Christianity and their families.

According to the Nigeria Guardian, Ganduje described the allegation as “a baseless account fabricated by religious bigots to tear the fragile nation along religious lines”.

It reports ‘Ganduje, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media, Salihu Yakasai, said “…as Governor of Kano State (he) never embarked on any mission to convert people to Islam. So those insinuating that Ganduje is using public funds to convert people to Islam should have a rethink.

“Yes, there are girls converted to Islam and this is not the first time that is happening in Kano. There is a foundation owned by Ganduje several years before coming to government. The foundation engages in humanitarian services and propagation of Islam just like the Christian missionaries penetrate local communities in Sumaila, Kura and few parts of Kano”‘

Revd. Gideon Para-Mallam, an advocate for social justice, commented “Governor Ghanduje of Kano is a sitting Governor and a Muslim. Should he be allowed to get away with what he has done? If a sitting Christian Governor did what Ghanduje did, what would the Muslim community do?

Ghanduje is engaging in what I see as ‘executive conversions’, induced by corruption and love of money. That is the contradiction that is Nigeria. This is lawlessness at the executive level. The use of one’s official position to advance Islam in a multi-religious country is a disservice to promotion of religious harmony in a State that has both Christians and Muslims.

This fake conversion to Islam should not be allowed to stand. The fact that she is a minor makes for a strong case in court.”

As a regional analyst put it: ‘For a rural family, the State Governor would be like God”.

It’s not the first time the Governor has been captured on camera in a less than flattering way. In October 2018, the ‘Daily Nigerian’ posted a video of undercover filming showing nine shots during which he was seen receiving bribes. The Governor said the video had been ‘cloned’.

A State Governor is the highest level of Nigerian society so far implicated in a pattern involving young Christian girls and women that World Watch Monitor has tracked over a few years now. Although Becky does not appear to have been kidnapped, other aspects of her situation vis a vis powerful male leaders of society echo other young women’s experience of conversion under pressure or coercion.

A year ago, on the 5th anniversary of the abduction of the predominantly-Christian Chibok girls, WWM reported on 13 year old Christiana, who was kidnapped from her family home on the campus of the well-known Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna State [one of the top educational institutions in Africa.

Her parents were eventually summoned to the local ruler’s* palace, where she was produced, covered head to toe in Islamic dress. The man put in charge of her was on the staff of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the university; he also refused to give Christiana back.

The Constitution of Nigeria says that a minor (under 18) is in the custody of their biological parents, and no-one has the right to forcefully take them from those parents, even in the name of religion. And even in Sharia states, sharia is not meant to apply to non-Muslims.

After almost six months, Christiana was finally returned to her family.

On 23 March, 2020, another under-age Christian girl born in Kano State, but now living in Kaduna State, was apparently kidnapped and ended up at the house of the Chief Imam of Ikara, Hamza Bello.

Joy, with her older brother and sister, Christmas Day, 2019 (Credit: Hausa Christian Foundation)
Joy (on left) with her older brother and sister, Christmas Day, 2019 (Credit: Hausa Christian Foundation)

Joy Dankaka was born on 26th February, 2004, so she’s 16. Her father died when she was six. As is custom amongst the Hausa people, her mother agreed that her late husband’s cousin Revd. Markus Ahmadu should take her in and bring her up as his own. So he sponsored her through to junior secondary school run by the ECWA Church network in the northern Kano state. She then moved into senior secondary school at Pampaida, Ikara in neighbouring Kaduna State.

On 23 March 2020, the Kaduna State Government ordered the closure of all schools as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Rev. Ahmadu and his wife were expecting her to return from school – but they are still waiting. When they could not find out where she was, they and other relatives went to search for her. While they were still searching, the head of Rumi village in the Ikara area called Joy’s step-brother to tell him that Joy was with him in the house of the Chief Imam of Ikara, Hamza Bello.

Joy herself then managed to use somebody’s phone to send a message begging for help from her family – saying that her life was in danger. Her relatives went to rescue her, but they were told that Joy is now a Muslim and as a Muslim she’d been given Islamic ‘parents’ to now make every decision on her behalf because as a Muslim, she cannot live with Christians.

Joy’s parents insisted on getting their daughter back, but the Chief Imam would not release her. On another occasion that the parents went back for their daughter, the Imam was even using youths to threaten their lives.

The Kaduna government-imposed lockdown has put all court proceedings on hold, which has complicated attempts to rescue Joy: her family, including her real mother, fear she will be forcibly married off before they see her again.

Two days after Joy’s disappearance, World Watch Monitor published the case of 17 year old Sadiya, also in Ikara in Kaduna State, although about two hours’ drive away from Joy’s home. After Sadiya went missing, her Christian father was summoned to a ‘sharia’ court and told he was stopping her conversion to Islam. This court had forged a fake birth certificate for Sadiya. Meanwhile, Sadiya was held in a locked room for a month (this was in January-February 2020). She only managed to escape because her guards outside the door fell asleep.

The Anglican Bishop of Ikara, Yusuf Janfalan, told World Watch Monitor “We are all Hausa brothers and sisters, some Muslim, some Christian. We live in harmony. About the issue of conversion, some cases are of underage girls, and we try to fight it, not always valiantly. But where they’re over 18, our Constitution says that can be their choice – even if it’s a married woman with children who is suddenly abducted from her home. Then we hardly ever get them back.”

The Hausa Christian Foundation has carefully tracked and reported at least 12 cases of under-age abduction of Christian girls in one state, Kaduna, since June 2017. Another case in which the girl returned was in Katsina State, neighbouring Kaduna and Kano.

What is so shocking is that, in not a single case, despite extensive records of what happened, has anyone been held responsible so far. Now that the Governor of Kano is captured on video ‘alluring’ an under-age girl clearly overawed and intimidated by him, the international community might start to notice.

For instance, last year, a BBC ‘Africa Eye’ undercover investigation revealed Lagos University lecturers’ practice of ‘sex for grades’. This type of sexual harassment is said to be endemic, but it’s almost never proven.