THAT LEAH SHARIBU BE FREED

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Monday Editorial

The government should do all within its powers to get Leah Sharibu out of captivity

Leah Sharibu, the lone Christian Dapchi school girl who was held back by Boko Haram insurgents when her peers were freed on 21st March this year, has spent more than six months in captivity. But with the recent threat by her abductors for ransom otherwise she would be killed, the federal government and all other critical stakeholders who are in a position to intervene must do all within their powers to ensure her release. In expressing their commitment to the threat, Boko Haram insurgents killed Ms Saifura Khorsa, one of the international health workers in their custody and gave one month ultimatum to the federal government to respond to their demand of ransom or witness the execution of others, including Leah.

 It is instructive that this Boko Haram threat came barely three days after Ali Ndume, the senator representing Borno South, disclosed that her captors were demanding for ransom before her release. More unfortunate is that Boko Haram also stated that it was forced to carry out the execution of Khorsa because its letter to the federal government as well as a video message requesting for negotiations were both ignored.

We find this baffling considering what government officials had said in recent past about ongoing negotiations with Boko Haram, especially for the release of Leah who was held back because she reportedly rejected the demand of her abductors that she denounce her faith and become a Muslim. “Negotiations with insurgents are quite tortuous and complicated at times but I can assure you we are not leaving her to her fate and those who should are daily working on her release. Anybody who negotiates with insurgents and terrorists in the world will know that is not a direct face to face negotiation like we are doing,” said the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in May this year.

The authorities should consider the release of Leah of utmost importance, given the sectarian bent and interpretation being sown among the populace as a result of her continued detention. Indeed, if the federal government negotiating team were better advised, they would have seen the impropriety of securing the release of Leah’s peers on March 21 while leaving her in captivity. To worsen matters, they left the lone Christian girl behind while celebrating the release of others with fanfare, without minding the sensitivity in a bitterly divided country such as ours.

 Meanwhile, despite repeated denials, there have been reports, including from a United Nations agency that huge sums of money were paid as ransom for the release of 105 of the 110 Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped in February this year. While this is not a policy we endorse, it smacks of hypocrisy for the same government to pick and choose who to pay ransom for and who not to. The case of Leah is particularly peculiar and the federal government must treat it with utmost urgency and care. We also canvass same treatment for the other health workers who are also under the threat of Boko Haram execution.

 As this newspaper has argued repeatedly on this page, we cannot afford to give up on Leah or indeed the other girls and women that are still pining away in captivity. They and many others held behind the lines represent a blur on our collective humanity. Therefore, the authorities must deploy all the necessary resources, equipment, intelligence, etc., to get Leah and others out of the forest and into freedom. Nigerians desperately need the assurance that our government has the capacity to defend our territory and that the life of every single citizen matters. Nothing would symbolise that more than the return of Leah and the other captives.