Latest reports on Leah Sharibu is heartbreaking, Ojo Maduekwe writes
On February 19, 2018, a sad history repeated itself. Between 110 to 112 schoolgirls, aged from 11 to 19 years old, were abducted by Boko Haram members at the Government Girl’s Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State.
A similar incident had happened on the night of April 14 – 15, 2014, when 276 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, Borno State, were kidnapped as their teachers and school security fled.
Like his predecessor at the time of the Chibok girls’ kidnap, President Muhammadu Buhari too failed to protect the Dapchi schoolgirls, who were abducted barely a day after Nigerian soldiers posted to the area were rumoured to have pulled out of the town prematurely.
Then as APC presidential candidate, Mr. Buhari had promised to secure the release of the Chibok schoolgirls if he was elected president. This is why Nigerians were shocked to see a repeat of the Chibok kidnap happen to the Dapchi girls, under a party that campaigned and rose to power on the back of the Chibok saga.
A month after their abduction, the federal government announced the release of 101 of the Dapchi schoolgirls. Fearing the sort of embarrassment that led to the defeat of his successor, as the 2019 general election approached, Mr. Buhari’s government was alleged to have paid ransom to Boko Haram for the release of the girls, although government denied paying.
But all those that gained their freedom were said to be of the Muslim faith, while the only Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, on account of her refusal to renounce her faith, was detained by Boko Haram and left behind by the federal government.
Following criticisms that trailed the government’s failure to rescue Leah, Mr. Buhari assured Nigerians of her release. On one occasion, a presidential aide, Garba Shehu, said the president promised Leah’s mother to do everything to bring her daughter back.
Mr. Shehu said the president had spoken to Leah’s mother in a phone conversation. In a statement released about the phone call, Mr. Shehu said President Buhari reassured Mrs. Sharibu of his administration’s commitment to Leah’s freedom, saying, “we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety.”
Before Mr. Buhari called Leah’s mother, the family had organised a press conference in Jos, Plateau State to appeal to the president to see that their daughter was freed. What necessitated the conference was a threat by Boko Haram to “eliminate” Leah, if the federal government failed to meet their demands.
The Sharibus have shown exemplary courage in the face of a hopeless situation. Leah herself has been described by people as a courageous hero of faith. When she realised that she may not be freed with her schoolmates, it was reported that Leah quickly scribbled a message to her mother and sent it with a classmate.
In the note, the girl, who wouldn’t trade her faith for her freedom, wrote: “My mother you should not be disturbed. I know it is not easy missing me, but I want to assure you that I am fine where I am… I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then, there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since Boko Haram’s refusal to release her along with her schoolmates, Nigerians, home and abroad, have tried to rally round the Sharibus to pressure the federal government to secure her release. There have been protests in and outside Nigeria.
In London, to mark the one year anniversary of Leah’s abduction, the Christian Solidarity World (CSW) organisation gathered outside of the Nigerian High Commission to protest Leah’s continuous captivity. They called on the government to “do everything in its power to expedite the release of this courageous schoolgirl”.
When Leah turned 16 on May 14, 2019, Nigerians took to social media to mark her birthday, and also demanded the government see that she’s freed.
A former minister of education under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, decried that despite assurances, Mr. Buhari had failed to secure Leah’s release.
“History will record that a young daughter of our country #LeahSharibu was left behind, when her schoolmates were retrieved from terrorist abduction. She stood unwilling to negotiate her faith for freedom. @MBuhari promised, yet Leah is still with terrorists. She’s 16 today. Tragic,” Mrs. Ezekwesili tweeted.
Convener of the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) movement that mounted pressure on the federal government in the aftermath of the Chibok schoolgirls abduction, Ezekwesili and her group have been a constant voice in the push for Leah’s release.
Not only the #BBOG, even former presidential aide to Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri has been beaming light on Leah’s ongoing captivity.
A controversial figure, Omokri has sold T-Shirts with the inscriptions #FreeLeahSharibu, with the proceeds given to Leah’s family. He also claims to have donated one million naira from his book, ‘Leah Sharibu: The Girl Boko Haram Left Behind’, to the Sharibu family.
Agreed, it may not have been seen, the kind of daily protest that took place at the early stage of the Chibok girls abduction, and Nigerians have assumed annoying docility since President Buhari assumed power in 2015.
However, having failed to secure Leah’s release, lovers of religious freedom all across the world have continued to pressure the president to live up to his primary responsibility, and his promise to free her. To purportedly receive a call after the press conference must have rekindled the hope of Mrs. Sharibu and her family. There’s no way they could have doubted the most powerful man in Nigeria, and so they must have waited patiently, with the hope that one day their daughter would return to them “in peace and safety” as promised.
Along with the family, Nigerians had patiently waited, until the news of Leah giving birth for one of the Boko Haram commanders broke all hearts. As it stands, this situation may have foreclosed her freedom, perhaps. Mr. Buhari has therefore failed Leah, her family and Nigerians; again discrediting his government’s claim of a defeated Boko Haram.