Leah Sharibu: One Year in Captivity

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Leah Sharibu

As the day rolls by and hope appears to be fading, Nigerians who care about Leah Sharibu, the abducted Dapchi School girl, are not relenting in asking President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfil his promise to rescue her from Boko Haram captivity, even as the first year anniversary of her abduction draws near

By Olu Ojewale

PERHAPS, if not for the rumour of her death, which circulated in the social media recently, the Nigerian government, appeared to have forgotten about Leah Sharibu, the abducted Dapchi School girl kidnapped with others about a year ago. Sharibu whose mates with whom she was adopted that fateful day in February last year, were released a month after, will be a year in the Boko Haram captivity on Tuesday, February 19.

Sharibu’s captivity started on Monday, February 19, 2018, at about 5:30pm, when 110 schoolgirls aged 11–19 years old were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, GGSTC, Dapchi, located in Bulabulin, Yunusari Local Government area of Yobe State, in the North-East part of Nigeria. On Wednesday, March 21, 104 of the girls were returned by their captors, five had died, while one remained in captivity. Ever since, Sharibu has remained in captivity all because she refused to convert from Christianity to Islam as demanded by her captors. A 14-year-old girl, who is still in her formative years, has been suffering for her refusal to abandon Christianity and embrace a new faith.

To add to her fate, her captors have said severally that she would be their slave and also threatened to kill her.

Buhari
Buhari

Indeed, in September, last year, the Boko Haram sect killed Saifura Khorsa, one of the health workers kidnapped from Kala-Balge, Borno State. She was a midwife with the International Committee of Red Cross, ICRC. In a video seen by The Cable, an online newspaper, the deceased who was wearing a white hijab was shot from behind. In the video, the sect also threatened to kill Hauwa Liman and Alice Ngaddah who were abducted alongside Khorsa in March 2018, as well as Leah Sharibu.

Liman and Ngaddah, a mother of two, who worked with United Nations International Children Fund, were the ones in captivity among the three people abducted in Rann on March 1.

It was on the video that the spokesman of the group promised to kill the health workers and Leah Sharibu. “The other nurse and midwife will be executed in a similar manner in one month, including Leah Sharibu,” the sect threatened.

Making good of its promise, in October, Liman, a worker of the ICRC was, indeed, killed as threatened by the fundamentalists.

So, when the social media reported that Sharibu had been killed, it was understandably too much for Rebecca Sharibu, her mother, to take in. Hence, she cried out on Saturday, February 9, calling out to President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfil his promise to the family by getting her daughter released.

Tearfully addressing a press conference in Abuja, she noted that February 19, will make it exactly a year that her daughter was abducted. Speaking in Hausa, she pleaded that Buhari should do everything possible to ensure the release and safe return of her daughter.

She recalled how Buhari had spoken with her on phone and assured her of Leah Sharibu’s release. “The president spoke with me on phone and encouraged me not to worry, and with the assurance that my daughter will be released. Three minister’s also visited me and gave me assurance but till today, I haven’t heard anything, hence my coming before you to plead.

Madam Rebecca Sharibu
Madam Rebecca Sharibu

“Leah is just 15 years old. The beauty of a promise is in its fulfilment. Please save my daughter. I plead with you to help me.”

But Lai Mohammed, the minister of Information and Culture, dismissed as “absolute fake news” the reports in the social media claiming that Leah Sharibu had died in captivity. At a news conference in Ilorin, Kwara State, on Sunday, February 10, the minister insisted that there was no truth in the rumoured death.

He alleged that the rumour of Sharibu’s death, making the rounds just a few days to the presidential election, was another ploy by the political opposition to tarnish the image of the Buhari administration and exploit primordial sentiments ahead of the polls.

“I think it is part of the opposition’s strategies to throw everything at the administration and at the President. I think every day they are realising the hopelessness of their position,” Mohammed said.

Even then, about three month ago, Mohammed had assured the families of the kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirl and two abducted aid workers that the federal government would leave no stone unturned to secure their release.

The minister gave the assurance on Friday, October 14, 2018, when he led a three-member federal government delegation to Maiduguri, in Borno State, and Dapchi in Yobe State. During the visit, Mohammed disclosed that Buhari sent the delegation as a follow-up to his phone call to Leah’s mother earlier. He said that the Buhari government will not rest until Leah Sharibu has been reunited with her family.

After affirming that the president had indeed, made the promise, the mother of the adopted girl, said: “Mr. President knows the channel he used to secure the release of the other girls and he cannot tell us that he doesn’t know how to get Leah back to us. But it seems he has left us and Leah to our fate. No one is talking to us about her issue, not even the state government.”

True talk; it seems the Buhari government has not been able to find its way out of the labyrinth of the Boko Haram web to secure the release of the poor girl who has been made to through an agonising time because of her faith.

Lai Mohammed

Nevertheless, several well-meaning Nigerians are not ready to allow the blemish of the Leah Sharibu’s captivity to be hidden by the Buhari Presidency. In an open letter dated February 6, Ikeazor Akaraiwe, a human rights activist, called on the president to live up to his promise and get Leah Sharibu released from her captors.

Akaraiwe noted that by Tuesday, February 19, three days after presidential election, the abducted girl will be one year in captivity. That he said would not be right as President Buhari had sworn on oath in 2015 to uphold the constitutional rights of Nigerians, and so he should do same to Leah Sharibu because she, being in the hands of the terrorists, is a breach of her constitutional rights.

He wrote: “Many were abducted before her, with her and after her, but what makes her case particularly pathetic is that all her schoolmates abducted together with her were released one month after the abduction, except for her and about five others who died in the course of the abduction.”

Even as it has become clear that Leah Sharibu’s refusal to renounce Christianity for Islam is reason for her continued incarceration, Akaraiwe argued that religion should not be an excuse as it is her fundamental right to be a Christian as her parents.

According to him, Buhari does not seem to be doing enough to get Sharibu released. He pointed out: “Get this child released before election day February 16. Mr. President, you campaigned for the presidency on the same footing of security. Four years on, we ask you to free this child who is the age of some of your grandchildren, and younger than my four daughters before February 16. Mr. President, give a hundred men in exchange for her life if need be but do not allow her remain in captivity, and if she is dead, do let us know, so we may mourn her. As commander-in-chief, you are mourner-in-chief, so, mourn her publicly. Let us see your tears flow, so we may know that you care for all, Muslim and Christian, Igbo, Bachaba and Fulani alike.”

He said if Sharibu should remain in captivity on Saturday, February 16, “Mr. President, it will be impossible for me as a citizen to approve of your remaining president for another four years while Citizen Leah (Liya) remains in custody.”

Expressing a similar view, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said it is sad that the Buhari administration has not lived up to its promise by getting the release of Sharibu. In an article titled: Mr President, Where Is Leah Sharibu? Ekpe-Juda said that with general elections approaching it had become necessary to demand from the president, “what has become of our daughter Leah Sharibu, particularly as he aspires to go for a second term in office.”

He said if the president should refuse to give a credible and concrete answer, Nigerians should use it to determine his fate in the elections.

Reminiscing how 104 other muslim girls were released without Sharibu, a Christian from the Boko Haram captivity, Ekpe-Juda said the government’s action was insensitive, irrational and condemnable. “We were told that she was left behind for refusing to denounce her Christian faith, and the government accepted such lame excuse, not minding the sensitive nature of that. Was the government expecting that it would be praised (for this)? The money that the government paid to the terrorists, was it contributed by Muslims alone? This is the president who on the date of his inauguration said, ‘I am for everybody, I am for nobody.’” Consequently, he said it had become obvious that Buhari is siding with his Muslim brothers and sisters, even in a country with a secular constitution.

That notwithstanding, it is apparent that Nigerians will not stop asking questions until the riddle surrounding the captivity of Sharibu is put to rest once and for all.

In The Guardian newspaper editorial of February 14, the newspaper asked: What happened to promises on Leah Sharibu? When will several promises made on the release of Leah Sharibu be fulfilled? Where is Leah Sharibu? Is she alive? And answered itself, saying: “It is unfortunate that the answers to these questions are still blowing in the wind barely two days to the elections despite growing expectations that she would be released before the 2019 elections.”

The Guardian said that despite the assurance given by Buhari to console the Sharibu’s family that the government would ensure their daughter’s release, it was yet to be fulfilled.

Hence the paper said: “So, it has become pertinent to ask Mr President, what happened to his promise on Leah? Are Leah and the rest Chibok girls buried in the cacophony of political campaigns? Is it all politics and elections, while neglecting other weightier matters of humanity and governance?

“Buhari should note that Leah is Nigeria’s daughter and the nation’s attention and action concerning her should not be less. The life of Leah, the only kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirl not released because of her faith as a Christian, should continuously be on the front burner. Therefore, it is worrisome that it is taking another round of appeal from the family of the girl for the nation to be reawakened that she is still in the hand of the heartless abductors.”

Indeed, the newspaper said the unfortunate situation appears not to be receiving the seriousness it deserves, except debunking the social media reports that Leah Sharibu might have been killed by her abductors, and calling it fake news.

The paper said the fact Sharibu is with her captors on account of her heroic refusal to renounce her Christian faith, makes her the face of the perceived conflict between religions in Nigeria.

It, therefore, argued: “Authorities in Abuja should continue to reflect on the consequences of Leah’s capture and her continued detention by Boko Haram insurgents. It is legendary and it will continue to re-echo a bright message of love, selflessness, courage and hope to our nation.

“Leah, ‘goddess of resistance to terror’ by her principled stand is now the number one soldier on the frontline in defence of Nigeria’s integrity and values and aspirations to unity, peace and progress. She is a true heroine.

“That is why we are re-appealing to the president and his men to intensify efforts to rescue her from the abductors. As long as Leah remains in captivity, the reproach will continue to haunt the government of Buhari.”

Besides, the newspaper urged other Nigerian state actors with conscience, to rise up to the situation, “as the non-release of citizen Leah remains a moral guilt hanging over the Nigerian state’s duty-bearers and should not be treated like ‘June 12, 1993, election,’ where the country attempted to ‘atone’ for its sins after 25 years.”

Consequently, the paper said the only way to clear the moral guilt hanging on Nigeria is for Buhari to ensure Sharibu’s safe return to her parents.

Although efforts to get further comments from the spokespersons of the president on what efforts are being done to get Sharibu’s release yielded no result, it is hoped that government is really doing something that will secure her freedom. For the Nigerian Christians who have been praying for her release, only God has the final say.

– Feb. 15, 2019 @ 16:25 GMT |

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