It is more than a year since Leah Sharibu was abducted by Boko Haram’s faction of the Islamic State of West Africa Province. The terrorists had struck on February 19, 2018 at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, where they abducted 110 teenage girls.
Leah was one of the pupils taken away by the insurgents. Mysteriously, she is the only one still in captivity after most of the girls were returned to the Dapchi community by their abductors. The Federal Government’s intervention helped to secure their freedom. But Leah was not so lucky. She is alleged to be withheld by the terrorists for simply refusing to convert to Islam. In spite of several promises by the Federal Government to intervene and ensure her release, Leah has, sadly, remained in the terrorists’ captivity.
Many Nigerians, including Leah’s parents, have consistently called for an unconditional release of the innocent girl. In response to the litany of agitations and pressure on the status of the girl’s whereabouts, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, explained that government had made some progress on the ‘back channel’ negotiation strategy with the terrorists. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a telephone call, had given the girl’s parents the assurance that government was trying its best to ensure the safety and release of their daughter. The gesture was good, but not enough to heal the wound inflicted by the abduction.
While many Nigerians continued to wonder whether the girl was still alive or not, one of the freed girls, who spoke in confidence, recently revealed that Leah is actually not dead. A few days ago, media accounts of an encounter with the escapee claimed that, she shared a ‘cell’ with Leah up until the last quarter of 2018.
“Since she refused to convert, the (militias) soldiers told us that she was an infidel and that she should not be allowed to cook for us. Leah never attended the Islamic lesson. I am sure she is alive because I left her there. Leah is a strong believer in her faith with strong character. Whenever any of us was ill, she would pray for us and we would be alright. I was always having stomach pain. One day, Leah told me to have the belief that God could heal me. She laid her hand on my stomach and prayed for me. She was like a prophetess in captivity. She prays and heals people. She kept preaching and telling us that there is a supreme God that watches over us. Every day, we heard her pray”, the girl was quoted as saying.
From the various testimonies given about Leah, she is certainly worthy of emulation. Many have described her as an epitome of courage, doggedness, discipline and principle. Despite her young age, she is able to stand firm in the face of death threats from the terrorists by upholding her belief and core values. This makes her a source of inspiration to many people. For a teenager, the trauma of being held captive by dare-devil terrorists is enough to blight her self-confidence, potential, virtues and drive for development. Abductees in the den of terrorists, after all, are prone to sexual abuse, sickness, torture, deprivation, servitude and death.
The cheery news, however, is that Leah is still alive and waxing strong in faith, going by the confessional statement made by the freed Dapchi girl. Her abductors should release her now. More efforts should be made to get her released from captivity. The Nigerian state would be failing in its constitutional duty if she continues to remain at the mercy of her captors. The government should handle her case with great care because of its sensitive nature and the perceived religious coloration.
In the first place, it should be admitted that persistent incidents of terrorism occurring in the North-East are a clear manifestation of poor, weak and ineffective governance that continues to breed hopelessness, frustration, despondency and disillusionment on the part of the citizenry. Despite the huge defence spending, a lot needs to be done to improve national security in our dear country. In most cases, children, women and the elderly are victims of insecurity. This should not be.
We should make our nation safer. The life of every citizen should count and it should be taken seriously. The strength of any nation lies in its people before the natural and material resources. Nothing is too much that can be done to protect, preserve and develop the people. In any modern and progressive society like ours, which subscribes to the tenets of democracy, it is the main obligation for the state to provide adequately for the security and welfare of its citizens. Nothing short of this is acceptable. Therefore, the state must not fail Leah.
- Adewale Kupoluyi wrote in from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta
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