In the evening of February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls of Government Girls’ Science Secondary School, Dapchi in Yunusari local government of area of Yobe state were abducted by Boko Haram and taken into grisly captivity. Five of the girls died in the hands of their captors. But after weeks of negotiations between the government and the abductors, 104 of the schoolgirls were released except one – Leah Sharibu.
Leah refused to succumb to the vile power of her holders. She refused to deny her faith in return for her freedom. She feared God, not man or weapons of death. She held on to her God and refused to kneel before Baal. Boko Haram held her for refusing to convert.
In April 2018, Leah sent out a message of despair; a desperate call for help. She said: “I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi. I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation.”
“I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, father, my younger brother and relatives. Kindly help me out of my predicament. I am begging you to treat me with compassion. I am calling on the government, particularly the president to pity me and get me out of this serious situation.”
It is yet another Christmas — the third one – but Leah, who was 14 years old at the time of her abduction, will not be receiving gifts from Santa Claus. There have been speculations that the teenager has been killed; that she has been married off to a commander of the terror group and that she is with child. All these are still speculations. Leah needs closure. Leah’s parents deserve answers; they need to be put out of their agony. Nigerians deserve closure. We cannot all move on when a young girl whose only offence is getting an education and whose government and country have failed.
Where is Leah Sharibu? Does she know it is Christmas?
BUHARI’S FAILED PROMISES TO RESCUE LEAH
1. In October 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari made a solemn commitment to bring Leah back home to her parents.
He said to Leah’s Mother, Rebecca 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.”
2. On July 6, 2019, during the Army Day Celebrations at Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos state, Buhari who was represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo rehashed the same vow.
He said: “Let me use this opportunity to reassure the affected families and friends that the Buhari administration will not relent in our efforts to see that all the remaining girls, including Leah Sharibu, are freed and reunited with their families.’’
3. And on February 19, 2020 – the second anniversary of Leah’s abduction, Buhari restated his vow to secure the release of the young girl – after previous failed promises.
He said: “Two years ago, 110 innocent children from the town of Dapchi were taken, against their will, by the terrorists of Boko Haram. 107 survived the ordeal. Today all but one – Leah Sharibu – are returned to their families. Now aged 16, Leah remains in the hands of the terrorists – they say because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith. We say, as the government for and of all Nigerians, that no person has the right to force another to change their faith against their will and that all life is sacred.
“This government continues and seeks to secure the release of all children and captives of terrorists – and we do so regardless of their creed or the name of their creator. As we redouble our efforts for Leah’s return, we can never allow the terrorists to divide us – Christian against Muslim, Muslim against Christian. We are all Sons of Abraham. And all Nigerians have the same worth and rights before the law, and before God.”
Platitudes, sweet words and vacuous vows; that is all the Buhari administration has to show for its rescue effort.
Has the government really done enough to rescue Leah? No. If she was a daughter of a member of the political class, would the government abandon her to fate? How come the Buhari government that is notorious for paying ransom to bandits and insurgents has not been able to deploy all resources and assets to secure Leah’s freedom? Why is there a screaming silence by the government on Leah? And when will she come home?
A few weeks ago, the US deployed its elite security team to rescue its citizen – only one citizen — held by bandits in Nigeria. The captive was successfully rescued. A responsible government is one which places value and primacy on the lives of its citizens.
Really, the failure of the Buhari administration to rescue Leah, in particular, and some Chibok girls still in captivity, will remain a blot on the government and will haunt it long after it is done and gone.
Leah deserves Christmas in the warm hands of her loved ones. How will she know it is Christmas when she is in death’s valley? How can she sing the Lord’s song in captivity?
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist