As families and well-wishers marked the 16th birthday of abducted Leah Sharibu yesterday, the Federal Government was urged to go the extra mile to secure her release from the captivity of Boko Haram terrorists.
The fresh call for Sharibu’s release was further reinforced by the arrival into the country on Monday of Zainab Aliyu, a Muslim girl who was arrested and detained in Saudi Arabia for alleged drug trafficking, but whose release was secured through the intervention of the Federal Government.
Sharibu was kidnapped on February 19, 2018 by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, located in Bulabulin, Yunusari Local Government area of Yobe State.
After the deployment of the Nigerian Air Force and other security agencies to search for the girls with the hope of securing their release, the government announced on March 21, 2018 that the terrorists had returned 106 of the kidnapped children, excluding Sharibu.
Her parents later informed the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the group would only release her if she converted to Islam.
Although the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed announced that the girls’ release was unconditional, the refusal of the terrorists group to release the girl on condition that she converts to Islam since last year has not ceased from generating reactions.
Shortly after the other girls were released, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed sadness over Sharibu’s situation and promised his government would not abandon her.
“The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned. President Buhari assures the Sharibu family that he will continue to do all he can to ensure that they also have cause to rejoice with their daughter soon,” a statement from Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, had read.
The Bring Back Our Girls movement led by a former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, held a series of protests to demand her release as well as that of over 100 Chibok schoolgirls who have been in captivity for over 1, 500 days.
Her whereabouts have, however, remained unknown despite promises by the government to get her released.
To mark Leah’s birthday and celebrate her testimony of faith and resilience, several activities were lined up in Abuja, Jos and Lagos.
At the Abuja gathering yesterday, President of the Leah Sharibu Foundation, Dr. Gloria Samdi Puldu, called for the intervention of the wife of President Buhari, Aisha.
“I want to specifically call on the First Lady who is a woman with children, who has daughters, to please ensure she prevail on the president; plead with him, cry out to him as a mother that he should give Nigerians an inaugural gift of having Leah Sharibu set free,” Puldu said.
Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, who is the founder of Citizens Monitoring Group (CMG), which works with Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, said it was sad that while other girls were free with their families in Dapchi, Leah remained a captive for the crime of having the courage to assert her conviction.
“Leah had the courage to say no when it was dangerous. This communicates courage, hope, faith, resilience, conviction which are ideal takeaway from Leah’s decision not to convert. This story did not come from Leah but one of the released girls who heard her said the words.”
Many Nigerians from across the world, who took to the social media yesterday to wish the girl a happy birthday, criticised the Federal Government for not doing enough to secure her release. Nearly 8,000 Nigerians were tweeting about Leah yesterday as early as 10:00 a.m.
Ezekwesili said the government was not taking the matter as seriously as it should because Sharibu, like the other girls, were from poor homes.
She wrote: “Nations are like human organisms. Nations can become diseased. Sadly, a people may not realize how injustice is a disease that eats up nations. A country that handles the abduction of the children of the poor with levity is unjust. What more does President Buhari need to hear?
“History will record that a young daughter of our country Leah Sharibu was left behind when her schoolmates were retrieved from terrorist abduction. She stood unwilling to negotiate her faith for freedom. President Buhari promised, yet Leah is still with terrorists. She’s 16 today. Tragic.”
Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State, said: “Happy 16th birthday to Leah Sharibu. Never to be forgotten! You are in our thoughts and prayers. Many happy returns.”
The President, Evangelical Church of Wining All (ECWA), Reverend Baba Panya, stated that it had reached a point where assurances of the Federal Government over the release of Sharibu no longer meant anything to the church.
Panya, who made the comment yesterday after a prayer session organised to mark the girl’s birthday at ECWA church in Jos, Plateau State, said: “The best of the Federal Government is not the best; their best over this issue can only be appreciated if Sharibu is released from the captivity. We keep on reemphasising that if the Federal Government is able to negotiate the release of Zianab and other 101 girls, we don’t see why they should not be successful in the negotiation towards the release of Leah Sharibu.
“If the Lord still uses Nigeria government, glory be to Him, but in terms of really having confidence in the government, our confidence over this period has been eroded. We are calling on the international community to come in and do something, may be pressure from the international community will spur the government to do what it is supposed to do.”
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) accused the Federal Government of double speaking and deception on the abducted Leah, urging President Buhari and the security forces to borrow a leaf from Britain on how well it has coordinated the search 11 years running of the then four-year-old Madeleine Mccann.
HURIWA, which challenged the Nigerian government to publish the records of how much it has spent so far in the rescue efforts, said it was “shameful that whereas Nigeria pretends to be practising constitutional democracy with transparency and accountability as the key principles just like what obtains in other democracies, including Britain, it has failed to render public account of the financial commitments it has made in the rescue of the hundreds of girls abducted by the armed Islamists of Boko Haram terrorists.”
Wondering why the Nigerian government does not copy the positive examples of Great Britain which periodically publishes public expenses on such cases, including the subsisting case of the then little Madeleine Mccann who disappeared in Portugal about 11 years ago, the group expressed regret that “the Nigerian government does not even seem to be making any concrete effort to free Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls.”
Secondary school pupils in Jos also organised prayers sessions to mark Leah’s birthday. The school children aged 10 to 16 years from four private schools–Unique Schools and College; Christ the Redeemers College Jos; Ebomi High School and Children Academy–came out to pray for Sharibu’s safe return.
The school children, who carried placards with various inscriptions encouraging Leah to continue holding on to her faith and urging her parents to be hopeful about her return, sang a birthday song for the abducted Leah.