Encounter with Leah Sharibu

The story of Leah Sharibu would continue to be of great concern to all and sundry. It is certainly that of a paradox. A pathetic case of abandonment, pity, betrayal, cruelty and servitude on one hand and at the same time, it is that of hope, heroism and rare patriotism. We recall that one year has passed since Leah was abducted by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an affiliate of the deadly Boko Haram group. 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 in a related fashion akin to that of Chibok in Borno state, which took place in 2014.

On that fateful day, Leah was in school attending classes when she was abducted. Leah remains the only girl still in captivity in the Dapchi schoolgirls’ kidnap. One month later, the girls were returned to the community by their abductors, except five who were said to have died in the process following what was claimed to be government’s intervention. Leah was not lucky. She is alleged to be withheld by the terrorists for simply refusing to convert to Islam. Since then, Leah has remained in the terrorists’ captivity despite several promises by the federal government to intervene and secure her release, just the same way it secured the release of her colleagues. Many Nigerians, including Leah’s parents, have consistently called for an unconditional release of the innocent girl.

In response to the litany of agitations, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, explained that government had made progress with a strategy of ‘back channel’ negotiation with the terrorists. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari had assured Leah’s parents that government would try its best to ensure the safety and release of their daughter. While speculations were mounting on whether the girl is still alive or not, one of the abducted girls revealed that Leah is actually not dead. Media accounts of an encounter of the escapee claimed that she shared a ‘cell’ with Leah and had just only left her, late last year. Speaking further, she stated that Leah and other girls were brought into the camp after their abduction. She confirmed that Leah refused to convert to Islam in the camp and was not married to any of the terrorist fighters and that she encouraged others to keep praying.

“Since she refused to convert, the 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”, she added.

The life of Leah is worthy of emulation. She is an epitome of discipline and principle. Despite her young age, she is able to withstand the difficulties and frightening threats by terrorists by upholding her belief and in what she believes in. Terrorists are not known to be patient with their captives. Even though she remains the only kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirl not released because of her faith as a Christian, she is a source of inspiration to many people. The singular act is legendary and serves as beacon of hope that Leah would be set free. For a teenager, the trauma of being held captive by dare-devil terrorists is enough to blight her self-confidence, potential and craving for development in life.

Apart from Leah’s agony, the trauma that her parents and family members would be undergoing can better be imagined. Such abductees are prone to sexual abuse, sickness, torture, deprivation and servitude that usually claim lives. It is cheery news that she is still alive and strong in faith, going by the confessional statement offered by the escapee mentioned above. More efforts should be deployed to getting her rescued. The Nigerian state would be failing in its constitutional duty and being irresponsible to abandon her at the mercy of her captors.

It should be admitted that persistent incidents of terrorism occurring in the North-east region of the country is a clear manifestation of poor, weak and ineffective governance that continues to breed hopelessness, frustration, despondency and disillusionment on the part of the citizenry. This should not be. In any modern society like ours that subscribes to the tenets of democracy, it is the sole obligation of the state to adequately provide for security and welfare of its citizens, as provided for by the constitution. The state must never fail Leah while crying for her rights and freedom.

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