A jihadist captive turned 21 yesterday (14th May), six years after being abducted from her school in Nigeria and held hostage for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

On her birthday, a pastor close to Leah Sharibu’s family called on the Nigerian government and the international community to end their “unfathomable” and “strange silence” and help secure the young woman’s release.

Nigerian Christian minister Dr Gideon Para-Mallam, president of Gideon and Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, wrote in a statement sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “It is extremely disappointing and heart-breaking that six years on we are still talking about Leah in captivity. Leah ought to have been released by now but here we are.”

Reverend Para-Mallam added: “In a sense, one must really ask, is the whole nation of Nigeria not in captivity?”

He explained: “Leah was kidnapped along with 110 other schoolgirls from the Dapchi Girls Secondary School in Yobe State on 19 February 2018, by Boko Haram’s ISWAP [Islamic State’s West Africa Province] faction… About one month later, all the girls were released through negotiations with the Islamic terrorist group, by Nigeria’s Federal government. All were released but not Leah Sharibu. Why?”

He added: “All the kidnapped girls were converted to Islam but 14-year-old Christian girl Leah Sharibu chose not to convert but remained faithful to her Christian belief. Her freedom of religion and belief was violated and today she is still in captivity because of her Christian faith.”

Reverend Para-Mallam highlighted that Ms Sharibu herself “appealed to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria to act to rescue her” in a video released six months into her captivity. He went on to call for prayers “that one day Leah will come out of Boko Haram’s captivity”, together with “several other Christian women girls”, as well as “Muslims still in captivity against their will”.

The pastor stressed: “Nigerians need to unite across faiths to raise their voices in advocacy to free Leah and others in captivity. We are in this together. Persecution to one is persecution to all.”

He added: “The Church in Nigeria prays and wishes to encourage the global Church to remember Leah and act in their nations by any means possible to get their governments to reach out to the Nigerian government through diplomatic circles, to see that Leah is set free along with several Christian girls who are forced to convert to Islam and married off as sex slaves to Boko Haram commanders, fighters and other top officials.”

“The last bit of news about Leah Sharibu was back in 2023. Let me ask that we keep hope alive and continue to pray that one day, Leah will come out of Boko Haram’s captivity”, he said in an interview with ACN.