‘Leah Sharibu: 21 Jeers To Hope Deferred’ – By Martins Oloja

I HAD wanted to write on some of our so many and-so-what matters arising from our national greed that has refused to collapse. I had planned to ask questions on why it is getting curiouser and curiouser as in Alice in Wonderland that Dangote has been exporting crude oil from a far country, the United States while Nigeria exports same product.

I had also wanted to ask some questions on the whereabouts of the famous Lagos-centric competence of the candidate BAT that was advertised to Nigerians before the 2023 elections. For this week, I had also considered writing on the danger of imminent civil disobedience that the current economic crisis may trigger now that there is fire on the mountain in Abuja and nobody seems to be on the run. I had done some sketches on these ruminations before the 21st birthday of our Leah Sharibu our ‘goddess of resistance to terror’ hit me like a thunderbolt! I considered marking the birthday of Citizen Leah a more significant and weightier matter of hope deferred in a season of anomie.

Let’s shout 21 hearty cheers to a insurgent captive who turned 21 on May 14, 2024, six harrowing years after she was abducted from her school in Nigeria and held hostage for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

On her birthday last week, a pastor close to Leah Sharibu’s family called on the Nigerian government and the international community to end their “unfathomable” and “strange silence” and help secure the young lady’s release.

Nigerian Christian minister Dr Gideon Para-Mallam, president of Gideon and Funmi Para-Mallam of Peace Foundation, wrote in a statement sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “It is extremely disappointing and heart-breaking that six years on we are still talking about Leah in captivity. Leah ought to have been released by now but here we are.” Reverend Para-Mallam added: “In a sense, one must really ask, is the whole nation of Nigeria not in captivity?” He explained: “Leah was kidnapped along with 110 other schoolgirls from the Dapchi Girls Secondary School in Yobe State on 19 February 2018, by Boko Haram’s ISWAP [Islamic State’s West Africa Province] faction… About one month later, all the girls were released through negotiations with the Islamic terrorist group, by Nigeria’s Federal government. All were released but not Leah Sharibu. Why?” He added: “All the kidnapped girls were converted to Islam but 14-year-old Christian girl Leah Sharibu chose not to convert but remained faithful to her Christian belief. Her freedom of religion and belief was violated and today she is still in captivity because of her Christian faith.”

Reverend Para-Mallam highlighted that Ms Sharibu herself “appealed to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria to act to rescue her” in a video released six months into her captivity. He went on to call for prayers “that one day Leah will come out of Boko Haram’s captivity”, together with “several other Christian girls”, as well as “Muslims still in captivity against their will”. The pastor stressed: “Nigerians need to unite across faiths to raise their voices in advocacy to free Leah and others in captivity. We are in this together. Persecution to one is persecution to all.”

He added: “The Church in Nigeria prays and wishes to encourage the global Church to remember Leah and act in their nations by any means possible to get their governments to reach out to the Nigerian government through diplomatic circles, to see that Leah is set free along with several Christian girls who are forced to convert to Islam and married off as sex slaves to Boko Haram commanders, fighters and other top officials.”
“The last bit of news about Leah Sharibu was back in 2023. Let me ask that we keep hope alive and continue to pray that one day, Leah will come out of Boko Haram’s captivity”, he said in an interview with ACN.

In February 2020, mother of Leah, Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, raised concerns on the commitment of the federal government to secure the release of her daughter from Boko Haram terrorists. Mrs. Sharibu, who spoke in an interview with the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London, noted then that she had serious doubts on the willingness of the government to secure the release of her daughter.

The Guardian (Nigeria) had in the same 2018 manifested Citizen Leah as its “Person of the Year”. In an accompanying article titled, ‘Leah Sharibu: ‘a goddess of resistance’ the newspaper had written, “…till date, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s acceptance of our charge to do everything to free her, she has since become the symbol of Nigeria’s refusal to give in to agents of darkness, hell-bent on dividing the country and appropriating a section of the nation’s territory unto themselves.

By her principled stand, the battle for the soul of Nigeria has become one between a young girl with a heart and a garrison of devils with no souls.

Leah remains missing but she has not missed her way. In the face of terror, she found a true guide in her heart and is now the number one soldier on the frontline in defence of Nigeria’s integrity, values and aspirations to unity, peace and progress.
She turned down personal liberty and chose to put her life on the line so that the whole of Nigeria may fulfill the promise of freedom and prosperity.

To find life, we must live it purposefully. To live it purposefully, we must find ideals to live by…Leah is teaching the nation that one could suffer, even die, by having the courage of his or her convictions but that there is a fate much worse: non-fidelity to any ideals…’

Indeed, her story teaches her beleaguered nation that even in these seemingly dark, uncertain hours, there is still enough light of courage and character by which to find our way home.

With Leah Sharibu’s conduct, a compelling case has now been made for the Nigerian woman, courageous and resilient in all of life’s battles, as the lodestar a nation can only ignore to its own peril.

A case has also been made for a review of Nigeria’s educational content to now include educating in morals and in conscience.

More than all the bombs and bullets trained on the terrorists, Leah’s strength has exposed the weakness of her captors and dealt them the kind of defeat that years of armed combat have not inflicted.
Her defiance has thrown up the Boko Haram insurgents for who they are: lily-livered rogues who have neither ideological nor tenable religious convictions.

Worse still, they lack the courage to admit such emptiness and are shorn of the willingness to learn that which they do not understand.

It has taken an innocent girl’s defiance to show that lacking in any allegiance to the dictates of all religions, especially peace, which human creation embodies, the terrorists’ value for humanity is defined only by the guns they carry, the scum in the space between their ears and the mayhem they inflict on innocent people.

Leah Sharibu’s fate today is not enviable. Hers is a hard place no one wants to be in. But she is in a high place, in the hearts of humanity, in the best chapters of history today and in the future…’

While 104 of her colleagues were released on March 21, 2018, five of the hapless girls died in captivity. Although, the then Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed announced then that the 104 girls’ release was unconditional, the refusal of the terrorists group to release Leah since then has questioned this view and buttressed some perception that the Federal Government’s negotiations through a back-channel then actually led to the release of the 104 girls. So, it has indeed become inexcusable that the Federal Government has not been able to negotiate Leah’s release six years on.

Let’s recall vividly that Leah had in a clear audio message in 2018 begged President Muhammadu Buhari as a father to come to her rescue. However, the government said the clip would be verified to be sure that it was Leah’s voice. And so on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, Buhari reportedly consoled Leah’s biological family and assured her parents that the Federal Government would do its utmost for the safety and security of Leah. The president was quoted as telling Mrs Sharibu: “I convey my emotion, the strong commitment of my administration and the solidarity of all Nigerians to you and your family as we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety.”

Despite Buhari’s assurance to the mother of Leah, the albatross still hangs on the neck of Abuja as the girl who is said to have given birth to two babies in captivity is still being held in an unknown forest at gunpoint. On so many occasions, notably at the quarterly security briefings at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA headquarters, Abuja I had raised the grave implications of continued silence of the state actors on “the safety and whereabouts of the only Christian girl on the Dapchi 2018 tragedy”.

Barely a week after the appointment of Malam Nuhu Ribadu as the National Security Adviser (NSA) in June, 2023, in a chance meeting in Lagos, I also raised the thorny issue of the Leah Sharibu challenge to the security and intelligence agencies in Nigeria. He too promised to deal with the reproach as quickly as possible. Again, till the present, there has been no update from the NSA’s office on the plight of the unlucky girl. It is incredibly reproachful that Nigeria’s “goddess of resistance to terror” is still being held hostage and the government appears unconcerned about that tragedy – of Leah and the remaining 90 Chibok schoolgirls.

This ugly reality is a monumental embarrassment, because the ‘‘child’’ Leah had even cried out to her ‘‘father’’ of the nation then to rescue her. And so our leader, President Tinubu should note today that the story of Leah Sharibu’s capture and her continued detention by Boko Haram insurgents as a result of her refusal to renounce her faith is legendary. That defiance echoes a bright message of love, selflessness, courage and hope to our nation. The goddess of resistance to terror, should be treated anywhere as the number one soldier on the frontline in defence of Nigeria’s now fragile unity, peace and progress. She is a true heroine who should have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.

The word of former president Buhari on Leah and the remaining Chibok girls should have been his bond. What is more painful, part of Buhari’s campaign promise on which he won election in 2015 was that he would work for return of the Chibok schoolgirls. This is therefore another town-cry to President Tinubu that our 90 Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu are still in Boko Haram’s despicable captivity. It is a time to deal decisively with that emblem of suffering and shame on the nation.

Oloja is editor of The Guardian newspaper and his column, Inside Stuff, runs on the back page of the newspaper on Sundays. The column appears on News Point Nigeria newspaper on Mondays.

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