One year on from the capture of fifteen-year-old Nigerian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu from her school in Dapchi, her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, has called on the Nigerian government to expedite her release.
Speaking in tears at a press conference held in capital Abuja on 10 February, Rebecca Sharibu renewed her appeal to the Federal Government to keep its promise for rescuing Leah.
Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK, said: “Leah Sharibu was kidnapped because she was a girl and held captive because she was a Christian. She personifies the incredibly vulnerable position of Christian women in northern Nigeria. It is saddening and outrageous that Leah remains in captivity, abused as a PR tool and negotiating pawn by Boko Haram. We urge the Nigerian government and the international community to increase their efforts to secure her release and reunite her safely with her family.”
In October 2018, for the first time since Leah’s capture, President Buhari had addressed Leah’s mother via Twitter: “Today I spoke with Mrs Rebecca Sharibu, to reiterate our determination to bring her daughter Leah back home safely. The thoughts & prayers of all Nigerians are with the Sharibu family, & the families of all those still in captivity. We will do everything we can to bring them back.”
On 19 February 2018 Leah Sharibu was abducted along with over 100 of her classmates by Boko Haram. They were taken from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Nigeria’s north-eastern town of Dapchi, in Yobe state. While others were released within a month, Leah, the only Christian in the group, remains in captivity.
After the captured girls were released, Leah’smother, Rebecca Sharibu, explained what she had heard from Leah’s friends who had escaped: “(Leah) was about to board the vehicle that was to bring them back. Then Boko Haram said she must convert. Her friends said they tried to convince her but she said she will not convert to Islam. Boko Haram said since she will not convert to Islam she should remain behind.”
Leah reportedly asked her departing classmates to pray for her and to give her mother a message: “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. My God, whom we have been praying to with you, is showing Himself mighty in my trying moment. I know your words to me during our morning devotions that God is very close to people in pain. I am witnessing this now. 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.”
Last October Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, announced it will keep Leah Sharibu as a slave for life along with Alice Ngaddah, a Christian mother of two who works for Unicef. “From today,” ISWAP said, “Sharibu, 15, and Ngaddah are now our slaves. Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them.”
Nigeria is number 12 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors' annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen and equip persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria through training, education for children, care and discipleship training for new Christians, community development projects, legal assistance, emergency relief and trauma counselling.