“We must celebrate the exception who said ‘no!’” Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize for Literature 1986 winner
The refusal of Leah Sharibu to renounce Christianity has been given as the reason for the refusal of the terror group, Boko Haram, to release her after her abduction in her school after a total of 112 girls were kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe state, on February 19, 2018.
The other girls have been freed with only Leah left behind. The release of the others and continued hostage of Leah are not entirely linked to her refusal to change her religion like many may believe. The terrorists derive much more from keeping her with them.
According to the accounts given by the media and the other released girls, the reason Leah was not released was because she held on to her Christian faith while in captive refusing any religious switch or change.
The nature of terror groups is to instil fear and keep the populace afraid while maintaining regular media presence because they cannot fight as a conventional army; thus the need to resort to alarmist and cowardly tactics.
Terrorists operate with the aim to penetrate the news media with their actions while at the same time creating public disaffection for government. This has been the case with other terror groups across the world which like Boko Haram operates through bombings or mass shootings.
The aim of terror networks has manifested in the Leah incident as she is being used by the terror group to instil national fear and also disdain for the Nigerian government, especially among the large Christian population and also southerners.
This tact of holding on to a Christian girl who refused to renounce Christ while releasing others is majorly driven towards aggregating the adherents of the Christian Faith in their anger against government.
The terror group finds the continued hostage of Leah very valuable for the reason that it reduces their need to suicide bombing or the process to indoctrinate those who can carry out these tasks before they can spread terror. Simply holding on to Leah also achieves this evil motive. It keeps the terrorists in the press and grants them the perpetual relevance and notoriety that they sorely crave.
Leah has clocked 16 in the custody of the terrorists and information proving she is still alive has not even been disclosed of recent. More than 400 days have gone and she is still captive with no news ascertaining her condition.
Non-governmental organisations and rights activists including international organisations have continued to pressure for the release of Leah. In doing this, the main target of activism has not even been the terrorists or the condemnation of the terror, but rather persistent criticism of the Buhari administration which in all truth has not appeared like it is showing necessary commitment to the rescue of the girl. If the government is doing so, it has not been visible.
While one cannot exonerate the Buhari regime, the truth remains that the terrorists are holding on to Leah for their own terror reasons. They can as well release her for a very costly ransom that many people would pay willingly. But the terrorists crave better the media attention and terror using Leah as the bait for their notoriety.
Beyond the condition of renouncing her religion proffered to her by the terror group, there is also an underlying desire of the group to keep the population turned against the government which has been very effective. Boko Haram is not as particular about the conversion of Leah as it is particular about its goals as a terror group.
Leah has shown more courage than is to be expected of a girl of her age. She has refused to renounce her religion which is a very commendable action. Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, has notably described Leah as a reminder of Nelson Mandela who refused conditional release.
The Buhari regime becomes still an unavoidable target of the call to intensify efforts for her release. Issues of insecurity in Nigeria are becoming multifarious making one wonder if there is a government.
The terror a lady of Leah’s age experiences among her captors would be very great. If she is held in captivity for longer, considering she is a young girl, one cannot guarantee that she would return without trauma of some sort. It is in fact possible that she quits fighting and changes her stance of conviction believing all hope to be lost. There is a serious concern too for the condition in which she is being kept including, particularly, hygiene and feeding.
While the terrorists have taken their action, it is necessary too for the government to take its own and ensure that her release is secured, paying, if necessary and unavoidable, the ransom for her release, if demanded.
The government through its publicists has claimed it is winning the war against Boko Haram, but as long as Leah is in the custody of Boko Haram terrorists, the war against corruption cannot be said to have been won.
Worse still is the condition in which her parents have been kept, with her father, Nathan Sharibu, telling the press recently that the government had not kept them abreast of information on the welfare of their daughter.
It is rather bad that her parents who should even be undergoing state-funded care and mental therapy pending her release are being kept in the dark on the condition of their daughter. It is saddening that the Buhari government has not shown enough care for the troubled parents.
Leah’s parents should enjoy the best care from government’s purse with frequent reassurance from the government on the efforts being made to release her. But, they are also in the dark seeing their daughter last since she departed for school in February 2018. How grieved their hearts would be!
Leah’s continued hostage calls into question our humanity. It raises an alarm on the need to teach religious tolerance globally to the young generation. The need to see this as an assault on the entirety of Nigeria is what is urgent and not as a religious issue only.
Mofehintoluwa writes from Lagos