Muhammadu Buhari
  • Muslim body decries attempt to convert her
  • PDP, Lai Mohammed trade barbs over girls

Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari thursday in Abuja said he was committed to the freedom of Leah Sharibu, the only Dapchi student left in the captivity due to her refusal to renounce her faith as a Christian.

Of the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 104 were returned by the Islamist sect to Dapchi on Wednesday before their movement to Abuja, five reportedly died in captivity, while Leah remains in captivity.

Out of the 110 girls, Leah was the only Christian.

Reacting to condemnations trailing the action of the terrorists who chose not to return her because she refused to renounce her faith, Buhari, according to a statement by Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, said he remained committed to Leah’s freedom the same way he was committed to the freedom of all the girls.

The statement further said Buhari, who is slated to receive the 104 returned schoolgirls at noon today at the State House, Abuja, promised not to relent in his commitment to ensure that Leah is reunited with her family, pointing out that he was conscious of his constitutional role to ensure the protection of lives of all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Restating that Leah would not be abandoned, the statement further said the president sympathised with Leah’s parents whom he acknowledged must have been depressed when they saw others rejoice over their daughters’ return.

It also said Buhari was conscious of the belief in Islam that religion is not a compulsion, and hence, cannot be imposed on anyone.

“The Buhari administration will not relent in efforts to bring Leah Sharibu safely back home to her parents, as it has done for the other girls after she was held back by the terrorists over her decision, as reported, not to convert from Christianity to Islam.

“President Buhari is fully conscious of his duty under the Constitution to protect all Nigerians, irrespective of faith, ethnic background or geopolitical location and will not shirk in this responsibility.

“The president is equally mindful of the fact that true followers of Islam all over the world respect the injunction that there is no compulsion in religion.

“To this effect, no one or group can impose its religion on another. His heart goes out to the isolated parents who must watch others rejoice while their own daughter is still away.

“The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned. President Buhari assures the Sharibu family that he will continue to do all he can to ensure that they also have cause to rejoice with their daughter soon,” the statement said.

Joining the president to condemn the refusal by Leah’s captors to release her due to her Christian faith, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) yesterday called on the federal government to return to the negotiation table in order to secure her release.

In a statement, Ishaq Akintola, director of the group, said the basis for holding Sharibu back was “faulty and unIslamic”.

Akintola said the decision of the sect to keep Leah captive was aimed at dividing Nigeria along religious lines.

“We reject Boko Haram as an Islamic group. We urge the leadership and members of the group to re-examine its ideological base,” the statement said.

“Leah Sharibu must be set free because the basis for holding her after setting her schoolmates free is faulty and unIslamic. We charge the federal government to go back to the negotiation table in order to secure the release of the only Christian girl among the Dapchi girls who is being held back by the insurgents.

“The federal government should note that Boko Haram is not as daft as many people think. By withholding the Christian girl, they seek to divide Nigerians once again along religious lines,” MURIC said.

The group commended Leah’s courage for refusing to bow to pressure in violation of her fundamental human rights.

“Our hearts are heavy with grief over her plight. We salute her courage. Shame on Boko Haram for oppressing a lone, vulnerable and helpless girl. Shame on all those who suppress freedom of worship,” the group added.

“We appeal to Nigerians to invoke special prayers in the mosques and churches for this Christian girl who had the courage to stare her oppressors in the face. We should also continue to pray for the remaining Chibok girls.”

When the 104 Dapchi schoolgirls were returned on Wednesday, Leah’s father, Nata Sharibu, said he was that happy his daughter did not denounce her faith.

“They gave her the option of converting in order to be released but she said she will never become a Muslim… I am very sad but I am jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ,” he had said.

PDP, Mohammed Bicker

Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, thursday exchanged barbs over the reaction of the main opposition party Wednesday to the return of the Dapchi students.

The PDP, at a briefing shortly after the girls were returned, poured cold water on the federal government’s victory parade, saying their abduction and return was staged managed for political reasons to give Buhari a leg up in the 2019 elections.

The party also called the whole saga a “scam of no equal dimension” and called on the United Nations (UN) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to step in to interrogate the matter.

Responding to the PDP thursday, Mohammed blasted the party, saying it had plunged to the depths of infamy for saying the abduction and return of the Dapchi schoolgirls were stage-managed.

In a statement issued in Abuja, Mohammed said such postulation portrayed the PDP as an inhuman, insensitive, unpatriotic and unworthy party.

He said since the return of the Dapchi girls was negotiated by friendly countries and reputable international organisations, it would have taken a conspiracy of global proportion to have stage-managed the abduction and return of the girls.

Mohammed said the reaction of the PDP amounted to “sour grapes”, especially because the party failed woefully when it was in power to quickly resolve a similar abduction of schoolgirls.

“As we have said many times since the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls, no government is exempted from its own share of tragedies. What makes the difference is the way such tragedies are managed.

“Whereas it took the PDP all of 18 days to even acknowledge the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014, the APC federal government acted promptly and responsively when the Dapchi schoolgirls were abducted on February 19 2018, hence their quick release,” he said.

The minister said it was unfortunate that the PDP which failed woefully as a ruling party, has also failed grievously as an opposition party, going by its insensitive and crude response to the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls – a development that calls for non-partisan celebration.

“In its 16 years in power, the PDP redefined governance as cluelessness, massive looting of the public treasury and crude exhibition of power.

“In its over three years in opposition, the PDP has again shown it does not understand the role of the opposition in a democracy. How then can the PDP convince Nigerians that it has learnt its lessons and that it is ready to rule the country again?

“Nigerians must say ‘never again” to this primitive and soulless party,’” he said.

Mohammed said the federal government has not been responding to the amateurish and jejune statements from the PDP precisely because the party has failed to learn the ropes of being an opposition party, “even when we have advised them to take a crash course on the role of the opposition in a democracy”.

“We broke our own rules this time because the PDP over-reached itself and scored an own goal at a time it could simply have congratulated the government and people of Nigeria on the release of the girls or just kept quiet,” he said.

The minister assured Nigerians that the federal government would intensify the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the remaining Chibok girls and return them safely to their families, just like the over 100 other Chibok girls who have so far been released, “unlike the PDP that could not secure the release of even one of the girls before it was booted out of power”.

But in a swift response to Mohammed, the PDP said yesterday that it did not need his so-called “crash course on opposition politics” as such “will be full of advanced syllabus on lies, falsehood, deception, and propaganda, which are patent trademarks of the APC (All Progressives Congress) and its controlled federal government”.

PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, said the federal government should instead hide its face in shame, having been busted on its numerous lies in governance, the latest being its complicity in the abduction and return of the Dapchi schoolgirls.

“We hope Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the APC as well as the federal government are following the reactions and comments of Nigerians on this latest ruse and noting how their party and government are being mocked.

“Your APC and federal government have become frustrated because you can no longer hoodwink Nigerians as you did in the past. The PDP will therefore overlook your intemperate reaction as a sign of the times.

“However, Alhaji Lai Mohammed need not be in a hurry to defend his dishonest and dysfunctional government as he would soon have more than enough to chew.

“This administration will at the appropriate time provide answers to allegations that while the nation was grieving, agents of the APC were busy engaging in financial rackets and criminal round tripping of ransoms in foreign currencies to service APC interests.

“The minister should be ready to explain, at the appropriate time, those behind the transactions, who got what and under what agreements, as well as the truth behind allegations of clandestine deals with insurgents.

“Our promise to the APC, the federal government and of course, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is that the PDP will never condescend to lies, deception and propaganda as we do not have any need for that.

“The PDP will, as always, remain on the side of the truth as Nigerians, across board, work together on our repositioned platform to rescue our nation from the misrule of this deceptive, dysfunctional and incompetent APC, come 2019,” the PDP said.