Last Friday, 19th February 2021 came and went without any major action by, or comment from the government and only few from the usually anxious persons – that Leah Sharibu has been in captivity for three years!
Recall that Leah Sharibu, a Christian was among the 110 female students of Government Science Secondary School, Dapchi, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State, who were abducted from their school premises by Boko Haram members on February 19, 2018.
While five of the girls died during the abduction, the remains girls who are Muslims were released in March of 2018, with the help of the Nigerian government. However, the terrorists refused to release Leah Sharibu who happened to be the only Christian among the girls.
Her case attracted unprecedented local and global attention owing to the fact that while the other students were released, her captors continued to detain her because she refuse to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.
While several voices were raised last Friday on the 3rd anniversary of Leah’s abduction, there was nothing official from the government.
In February last year during the 2nd anniversary, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that his administration will redouble efforts for the return of Leah and other abducted children.
In a statement then, 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 lives are 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.’’
That promise has not been kept. And no official statement was made last Friday.
And last year’s promise was not the first by the President to ensure the release of Leah Sharibu.
In October 2018, before the 2019 presidential election, President Buhari assured her parents that the Federal Government would do its utmost for the safety and security of their daughter. Then, the president was quoted as telling Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, the girl’s mother: “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.” This promise set off growing expectations that she would be released before the 2019 elections in February of that year. Still, nothing!
There were some reports last year that Boko Haram terrorist rejected the ransom offered by the Federal Government to secure the release of Leah Sharibu.
A Nigerian newspaper, Daily Trust had reported that the money was ready to be delivered when the terrorists, who had made the request for a specific amount totaling millions of Naira in hard currency, changed their minds and rejected any ransom.
On the 3rd anniversary, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins said in a statement to mark the day that the country and the government must never abandon Leah and the others still in captivity.
He said the failure of government to secure her release in the past three years, coupled with the recent increase in cases of kidnapping and armed banditry across the country, the very recent being the abduction of over 40 students of a Boys Secondary School in Niger State and 4 of their teachers, was regrettable and unjustifiable in view of the enormous financial and material resources being expended to wage war against insurgency and all forms of insecurity in the country.
Archbishop Martins insisted that government owes the family of Leah Sharibu and indeed all Nigerians the duty to not only secure her release and those of other abducted students, but also to put a lasting end to all forms of insecurity, be it kidnapping, abduction, cattle rustling and killing of innocent citizens by herders.
He noted: “It is sad to note that a whole three years have passed by since Leah Sharibu, a Christian student of the Government Science Secondary School, Dapchi, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State was abducted from her school premises along with other girls and has since been in incarceration. The Federal Government did promise, as a matter of priority, to ensure her release. Unfortunately, she along with others are still languishing in the hands of their abductors till date. We have been told that several efforts have been made to ensure her release, but we are yet to see them materialize. One can only imagine the severe physical, emotional, and psychological torture she and her parents have been going through all these years. We are therefore appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to do all in his power as the Commander-in -Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, the one from whom all other Security agencies take their orders, to secure her release and those of other abducted students and unite them once again to their already distraught families.”
Several Nigerians also spoke in the same vein on the release of Leah, including the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah; former Governor of Anambra state and vice presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general election, Mr. Peter Obi; former Governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke; as well as Senators Ben Murray-Bruce and Ali Ndume. They all spoke in a video released by Reno Omokri to mark the anniversary.
Also, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, issued a statement, calling on all pastors in the RCCG as well as all well-meaning people all over the world to intensify their prayers and efforts towards Leah’s release.
Pastor Adeboye charged every parent and people of goodwill all over the world to use whatever influence they have to ensure that Leah Sharibu and other children in captivity are released without any further delay.
There are still many questions, though. After three years in captivity, is Leah Sharibu still alive? What is the state of her health? Where is Leah Sharibu?
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.