As Leah Sharibu, one of the 110 Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists turned 18 on 14 May 2021, the human rights community and many Christian institutions marked the day with sad reflections. Her condition has remained a huge source of concern to many Nigerians and the international community as well.
It was on 19 February 2018 that Boko Haram kidnapped 110 schoolgirls from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College located in northeast Nigeria. After a month of negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, 104 out of the 105 girls were released and returned home to their families.
The jihadist militant terrorist group kept one girl and that was Leah Sharibu who was 14 years at the time. She has remained in captivity till date owing to her refusal convert to Islam. For the past three years, she has been held hostage and deemed a “slave for life” by her captors.
Leah has not been allowed any access to family or friends for the past three years. It is alleged that she has been forced to learn Islamic rules and Arabic as the group tries to force her to change to their beliefs.
They have also consistently used physical and mental torture to break her faith in Christianity. Strategies like beatings, brainwashing, hard drugs and sexual abuse have been commonly reported from women who have escaped Boko Haram captivity.
On her 18th birthday anniversary, her mum, Rebecca is renewing calls for the Federal Government to take the necessary steps to see her released:
“…what I have to say to the government is that I want the President to fulfill his promise about the return of Leah, and for those praying for Leah, I pray that God should strengthen them.
“…the fact that the whole world is praying for the return of Leah is why I am hopeful that one day as God pleases, Leah will return.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had on 19 February 2020, promised that his administration would secure the release of all persons currently in the captivity of Boko Haram and other terror groups across the country and beyond.
The President stated this in a message he personally signed as part of activities marking the second anniversary of the abduction of 110 students of Government Girls’ Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State.
Also, a Nigerian priest issued a heartfelt message of solidarity in support of Leah Sharibu.
In the hope that the message will reach her, Father Simon Okechukwu Ayogu made the impassioned plea to remind her that she has not been forgotten by the Christian world:
“Leah, it has been three years since your disappearance in the hands of Boko Haram elements in your school in Dapchi, Yobe state in north-eastern Nigeria.
“As you turn 18 on this day, we, just like your parents who are currently on tenterhooks, look forward to the moment when you will come back home.”
Father Ayogu, who currently ministers as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Braga, Portugal said that securing Leah’s release would be difficult — especially given reports that she had now been forced to marry a Boko Haram fighter — but that it was not impossible.
He added that, “We, along with the whole world, are waiting for you. We are waiting for this miracle of seeing you alive one day.”
Hoping that his call would lead more people to empathise with those being held by extremist groups in the country, Ayogu said: “Maybe it is good to imagine what it would be like to have a daughter, a sister, or a niece go missing for a day, a week, or a year.”
On his part, while marking the third anniversary of Leah Sharibu’s abduction, an evangelical pastor and friend of the Sharibu family, Gideon Para-Mallam called on governments from all parts of the world to apply pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to step up his administration’s efforts to release all those held by Boko Haram/ISWAP.
His words: “Please let governments and international organisations use diplomatic channels to raise Leah’s issue with our president and the relevant structures of power in Nigeria to act in order to free Leah and others in captivity.”
Commenting on the apparent lack of international action to free Leah Shariu, he queried: “Why is the world standing by and watching as she remains in unjust captivity?”
In March this year, a US-Nigeria Law Group, had in a statement disclosed that, Leah Sharibu had given birth to her second child while in Boko Haram captivity, both of whom were born in the year 2020:
“Intelligence received on the status of Leah indicates that she has delivered a second child in captivity. While we have not corroborated this by multiple sources, a usually knowledgeable source indicated that she delivered a second child late last year. This means both children were born in 2020 as the terrorists announced her childbirth earlier in 2020. We are still investigating this.”
Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, recently told the media that she was willing to accept Leah’s husband as an in law if it would mean that she would be freed.
The Federal Government has stated that Boko Haram terrorists deliberately refused to release Leah Sharibu in order to divide Nigerians along religious line.
Leah’s case, in particular, attracted unprecedented local and global attention, owing to the fact that others were released, while she was detained for reportedly refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
Even Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture had said at a time that, the terrorists feel that holding Sharibu captive would cause religious tensions in the country.
It seems with most other options not yielding any result, what Leah Sharibu and her immediately family can only do right now is continuous prayers . Nigerians and many well wishers across the globe are already praying that God should grant wisdom to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian government on how to ensure that young Leah Sharibu is released alive and unhurt.