The government should ensure that Sharibu is released forthwith, writes Sonnie Ekwowusi

Let’s begin the New Year by asking ourselves the above question peharps for the umpteenth time. It cannot be business as usual this year. We cannot gloss over the above question in same way we cannot gloss over the pangs of our conscience. Where is Leah Sharibu? It is no longer a mere rhetorical question. It is not a political question either. It is a conscientious question begging for an immediate answer. Those who delude themselves into thinking that the current Buhari government will make progress without the release of Leah Sharibu and other prisoners of conscience are greatly mistaken.

To be sure, wherever Leah Sharibu is at the moment, she would be kneeling down and cursing Nigeria and her leaders for disowning her and refusing to secure her freedom simply because she exercised her right to religious freedom. And prayers from little girls such as Leah Sharibu are quickly answered by God. Obviously those responsible for Miss Leah Sharibu predicament because she refused to renounce her Christian faith will never know peace. Therefore if these people want peace to reign in their hearts they must do justice to Leah Sharibu herself, justice to her parents and justice to Nigeria as an entity.

The paradox is that without accounting for the fate of Miss Leah Sharibu, the Buhari government is angry that Nigeria is continuously being perceived by both insiders and outsiders as a “criminal enterprise”. Specifically the government is angry that the United States has placed Nigeria on a Special Watch List for tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom” alongside Nicaragua, Cuba and others. Just last week the government was fuming over an alleged comment by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah that “the only difference between the government and Boko Haram is that Boko Haram is holding a bomb.

They federal government is using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam, which then gives more weight to the idea that it can be achieved by violence. With the situation in Nigeria it is hard to see the moral basis they have to defeat Boko Haram. They have created the conditions to make it possible for Boko Haram to behave the way they are behaving”, In response, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has cautioned Bishop Kukah not to indulge in actions capable of dividing the country along religious lines.

The truth of the matter however is that it is the Buhari government that is indulging in actions that are capable of dividing Nigeria along religious lines. For example apart from President Buhari’s “Ruga Settlement” which has been frontally opposed by the Nigerian people, his lopsided political appointments skewed in favour of Fulani Muslims portrays President Buhari as one dividing Nigeria along religious lines. The Presidency in presidential democracy is the central focus of power and responsibility.Therefore it is essential that the Presidency should not metamorphose into an instrument for fanning the embers of parochialism, provincialism, ethnicity, clannishness and religiousity. But we are seeing the opposite in the current Buhari government.

Imagine the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Tanko Mohammed advocating that the 1999 Constitution should be amended to extend Islamic Sharia law and “accommodate some of the concerns of Muslims.” With this advocacy, the Chief Justice plunged Nigeria into unnecessary religious controversies. The Chief Justice should have couched his comment in less parochial way. After all he is a Chief Justice of both Muslims and Christians. I had expected him to utter a comment that reflects the true secular and multi-religiousity of the Nigeria State. Like his precedessors in office, Justice Tanko Mohammed should have started his tenure with a judicial reform to at least garner some public confidence instead of dragging the country into unnecessary religious controversies.

More importantly, since August last year President Buhari has kept Nigeria’s land borders with all its neighbours closed thus making it impossible for business men and women to do cross-border trade by road. Now the same president has relaxed the visa rules for African nationals to enter Nigeria thus opening up Nigerian borders to all manner of African nationals including potential Boko Haram terrorists and Muslim suicide bombers and extremists.

Therefore Lai Mohammed should be cautioning the Buhari government for dividing Nigeria along religious lines. It was the same Lai Mohammed who told us about one and half years ago that the Buhari government had embarked on “tortuous negotiations” to secure the release of Leah Sharibu from Boko Haram captivity. Then by late last year the Buhari government told us that Leah Sharibu was alive and kicking. If the poor girl is alive and kicking, where is she at the moment? What is delaying her release? During the negotiations between the federal government and the Boko Haram terrorists for the release of the Dapchi girls, did the Boko Haram terrorists make conversion to Islam a pre-condition for their release? If the answer is in the affirmative, why did the federal government agree to such a term knowing fully well that would translate to leaving Leah Sharibu in the iron grips of the terrorists? What were the religious affliations of the released Dapchi girls prior to their release? Were they all Muslims or was Leah the only Christian among them who refused to renounce her Christian faith?

These questions attest that there are more that meet the eyes in the Dapchi girls’ abduction and the whereabouts of Leah Sharibu. Obviously the Buhari government is not teling us the whole truth about the Dapchi girls abduction. Common humanity is a point we must latch onto as we learn to grapple with the multiple perceptions of truth. At the risk of sounding repetitive, we have a responsibility not to foreclose the upholding of personal liberty and the sanctity of human life in our long search for common values from which to build an ethical framework for human solidarity. We have a bigger reasonability not to deprive the future generations of the chance to live fully and to push forward the frontiers of personal liberty for the benefit of humankind.

In an age in which compromise of principles has become a virtue, Miss Leah is indeed a reference point of abiding values. She is the conscience of Nigeria; a shining light in darkness. History always accords a place of honour for little heroines such as Leah. In fact when the history of Nigeria is re-written what heroine Sharibu has done shall be re-told in great memory of her. Future generations will number her among the noble and brave. Her name will be surrounded by a halo of glory. Therefore the federal government has no option but to ensure that Miss Leah is released forthwith. Untill Miss Leah regains her freedom the Buhari government will continue to be weighed down by a big moral burden.