Kidnapped schoolgirl who refused to convert to Islam remains in captivity
Leah Sharibu has just turned 15. Normally she would have shared a special birthday meal with her family at their home in northeast Nigeria. Afterwards, they would have bowed their heads in prayer, asking God to bless Leah on her birthday. But this year there were no celebrations and her family spent the day crying and fervently praying for Leah who is still being held captive by Boko Haram.
Leah’s mother, Rebecca, describes her as a hardworking and quiet girl who enjoyed going to church and sang in the choir. The local pastor, Daniel Auta, said Leah had a beautiful, melodic voice.
Leah was one of the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in February from their school in Dapchi. All the Dapchi kidnapped girls were freed three months ago, except for Leah, the only Christian girl, who could have been freed along with her schoolmates if she agreed to renounce her faith.
Leah’s friends told her mother, Rebecca: “Boko Haram told Leah to accept Islam and she refused. So they said she would not come with us and she should go and sit back down with three other girls they had there.
“We begged her to just recite the Islamic declaration and put the hijab on and get into the vehicle, but she said it was not her faith, so why should she say it was? If they want to kill her, they can go ahead, but she won’t say she is a Muslim.”
Leah asked her friends to tell her parents to pray for her, they said. On hearing this, Rebeca collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. She still suffers from health problems.
The Government Girls Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe state, recently reopened and maximum security measures are in force. Outside the campus, soldiers now guard the main gate and members of a volunteer vigilante force are posted at the other. However, on the day the abduction happened, there was no security. None of the abducted Dapchi girls has gone back, although 20 of them were given scholarships to a neighbouring private school in partnership with UNICEF.
President Muhammadu Buhari vowed on Twitter to do “everything in our power to bring Leah back safely”. However, Rebecca said no official from the Nigerian government has even visited her: “Only Christian organizations have been coming to see us. No one from the government. We are on our own.”
“My concern and question to the government are that since we were told that the negotiation was done for all the schoolgirls, why did government accept that only my daughter be left behind when others were freed and even brought home? So I am begging the federal government of Nigeria, if the negotiation was because they loved all the girls as their own, they should do everything to help release my own girl. “
“To the Boko Haram members, I have nothing to say other than that they should have pity on my only daughter and release her. It was not her fault that she is a Christian, I know that in this world, everyone chooses the path of faith he or she has chosen in worshipping God. There is no way one could be forced to do what he or she does not know. It is not possible.”
Leah’s father said he would not be happy until his daughter was rescued and brought home like her school friends. “Nigeria must do all within its powers to bring back my daughter, the same way they did to others. I really thank and appreciate the people of Dapchi community, especially how they rallied around us at this time of great sorrow.”
During their nine-year insurgency in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram have become notorious for kidnapping young people. They have abducted over 1000 children, including nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls four years ago. More than 100 of the Chibok girls remain in captivity. Hundreds of parents never saw their children again after they had been taken by Boko Haram.