Ayodeji Ake reports that to commemorate the 16th birthday of Leah Sharibu, which she marked in Boko Haram captivity 450 days after she was abducted, the Realm of Glory Church and the Catalyst for Global Peace and Justice organised a birthday rally to clamour for her speedy release

When 110 school girls aged 11 to 19 years were abducted from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, located in Bulabulin, Yunusari Local Government area of Yobe State by the Boko Haram terrorists on February 19, 2018, no one foresaw a repeat of the Chibok girls saga, but it did happen.

After several calls and pressure from concerned Nigerians and groups, on March 21, 2018, the federal government announced that Boko Haram had returned the kidnapped children. However, Sharibu, wasn’t released by her abductors due to her resistance to be forcefully converted to Islam. Sharibu was in SS1 when she was kidnapped, along with the other girls. As at today, she has spent over 454 days in captivity, and still counting.

Birthday in Absentia

While some marked her birthday with a walk, prayer session and cutting of birthday cakes, The Realm of Glory Church (RGC) in Lagos organised a special birthday rally celebration and prayer session for Leah and her family, with the end goal being the agitation for her release.

That fateful Tuesday, despite the pregnant cloud which foretold torrents of heavy rain, members of RGC, left the comfort of their homes and their businesses to gather in the church premises with colorful balloons and placards, some of which had inscriptions like ‘Leah our symbol of strength and freedom’, ‘Leah we love you’, ‘Dear Leah full of courage and strength’, ‘Leah turns sixteen’, ‘ Leah we celebrate you today and always’, ‘Happy birthday Leah’.

Speaking at the birthday rally organised by the church recently in Lagos, the Senior Pastor Realm of Glory Church, Abraham Sam Aiyedogbon, who doubles as the Convener Catalyst for Global Peace and Justice (CPJ), while demanding for her release noted the church is celebrating Leah to make a statement that she is not forgotten.

He said: “Leah Sharibu’s courage and conviction to stand for her faith rather than embracing comfort in the place of compromise is an inspiration to everyone. It’s also something of good will to celebrate. This is also a demand for release of Leah Sharibu. We are in short supply of role models and heroes. God has proven to us through Leah. The young girl shouldn’t be forgotten nor forsaken because she represents what Nigeria is and what can change the world but much more, everyday she spends in captivity is indicative of government failure.

“Today being her 16th birthday reminds us that she took the decision when she was 14 years and that today marks the second birthday she is celebrating in captivity. We feel there is no better opportunity than her 16th birthday to roll out the drums and celebrate her. We are doing this in all our branches and collaborating with other groups.

“We are not promoting the failure of government but celebrating Leah. We have done many protests not just for Leah but for every person in captivity and we are not only concerned about the Christians alone. When we find a Muslim that is being held captive because of her faith and is courageous enough, we will come out for such person. It’s about human right and dignity of humanity.”

Charge to Government

Aiyedogbon said the celebration was also organised to challenge the government of its needful responsibility to ensure Leah is released from the abductor’s den.

“The loudness of this celebration is a direct statement and a confrontation to the government. We are using it as a wake-up process because they thought since elections are over she is forgotten. This is showing that Nigerians have chosen not to forget Leah and if the government feel they can forget her, they are recording more failure.

“The success of every mother is to raise up a generation that will be better than the parents and that’s what Leah’s parents have achieved. They have lived to see Leah become a global hero and phenomenon. We have global icons all over the world celebrating Leah. So I think this should be an encouragement to the parents of Leah that the will of God sometimes might not be pleasant but will always end gloriously and they should be proud of their daughter. With the goodwill of the people, we will been welcoming Leah back sooner” he added.

As a mother, Rev. Grace Aiyedogbon, who expressed sadness over Leah’s continued captivity two years after, urged the government on swift intervention.

“As regard Leah’s release, every mother will have pain in their heart on issues like this. 16 is a milestone in the life of a girl and for her not to celebrate her birthday at home is a painful thing. We need to put ourselves in her shoes. Those in power also bore girls and they want them to celebrate their birthday with them and be with their family. Until Leah is released, the government will be termed failure in governance. The government needs to prove to us that our children are secure enough to go to school. As the government will be sworn in for the second term, they should endeavour to ensure Leah is free,” she said.

Strategist, CPJ, Olamide Stephen, said the event was organised to celebrate Leah’s 16thbirthday and also an avenue to charge the government to double efforts to free Leah from captivity.

“CPJ has taken up the responsibility to speak truth in the society. We are celebrating Leah Sharibu today, we have many times done rallies and protests on the streets of Lagos, Abuja and like over 20 states all over the nation. Leah is 16 and two years in captivity. All efforts to rescue her have proven abortive but today we not in conflict with the government but celebrating the life of an icon which is Leah for her bravery and becoming a symbol of our freedom even though in captivity.

“We will keep talking and not be silenced. The government is neither blind nor deaf. They can see us and hear us and we are using this opportunity to let them know that whatever effort they are making, they should double up to ensure everyone in captivity are released. Per adventure, Leah one day might have access to the social media or the traditional media, it should be known to her that we celebrated her,” he said.