Tuesday 19 February marks one year since the capture of fifteen-year-old Nigerian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu from her school in Dapchi. Leah's 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 renewed her appeal to the Federal Government to keep its promise to rescue 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 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."
'My God is showing Himself mighty'
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 because she has refused to deny her faith.
After the captured girls were released, Leah’s mother, 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."
Open Doors has been in regular contact with Leah's family and is offering them both practical and emotional support.
'DO NOT GET TIRED OF PRAYING FOR HER'
Leah's bold decision to refuse to deny her faith and to stand for Christ made her father, Natha, proud. He has said, "The confidence and faith of my daughter in the face of death in the hands of Boko Haram, to say she will never denounce Christ, made me realise that I had been living with a strong follower of Christ in my house. I am highly encouraged by her strong faith in the Lord."
Leah’s mother, Rebecca, has asked for continued prayers for Leah, saying, "I know that all over the world believers are praying and advocating for the release of my daughter, but until now I haven’t seen my Leah. I want to plead that Christians: do not get tired of praying for her, 'til she is returned."
You can now send a short message of encouragement to Leah's parents.
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.
Support your persecuted church family in Nigeria
Leah Sharibu is one example of the double vulnerability that thousands of Christian women face - women who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus, and for their gender. Many Christian women and girls - especially in northern Nigeria - are in danger of being abducted by Islamic extremists and forced to marry their captors. Thanks to your support, many women who have been through these ordeals are able to receive trauma counselling and care, which helps to restore their hope, their dignity and their identity, and helps them to heal.
Could you give £64 today to provide an emergency relief pack for a displaced Christian in northern Nigeria? This help could include emergency food, clothing and blankets.
- For Leah Sharibu and the other women in captivity with her, that God would strengthen and comfort them, and that they would be released
- That God would keep Leah's family in His perfect peace while they wait for more news
- For all those involved in negotiating Leah's release, that God would grant them His wisdom, and that He would soften the hearts of Leah's captors and turn them to Himself.