Dapchi is a town in northern Nigeria. On February 19, 2018, it saw the unthinkable happen. Terrorists belonging to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of Boko Haram abducted more than 100 students, mostly Muslims. One month later, all but one of the survivors were released. Because Leah Sharibu, a young Christian girl, refused to convert to Islam, she was kept in captivity.
Since then, she has spent her 15th, 16th, and 17th birthdays in captivity. On May 14th Leah will turn 18. With no news about any progress in her release, her family and friends wonder: have Nigeria and the world forgotten Leah?
Considering the silence from the Nigerian government about efforts to secure her release – much less any progress in that regard – it is a valid question.
Leah was abducted in February 2018. During a visit to the USA in April that year, Pres. Buhari pledged to secure her freedom. In August, Leah addressed the president directly in a video clip to ask him to secure her release. It was it was only in October of that year that Mr. Buhari spoke directly with her parents.
In 2019 there were a few assurances from government officials of continued negotiations. When a video circulated online in July showed aid worker, Grace Taku, asking for the government to ensure her freedom, while claiming that Leah had been killed, it caused pandemonium. The presidency could only by the end of August 2019 confirm that Leah was alive and that they continued to negotiations for her release.
In December 2020, the Nigerian Defence Headquarter’ Director of Information, Maj. Gen. John Enenche said in a media interview, he was not aware of any negotiation for the release of Leah, causing concern among observers once more. He did however note that negotiation could be going on at a higher level.
A friend of the family, Rev. Gideon Para Mallam told Open Doors in an interview, “I think it is safe to say that Leah is alive. But the silence from her captors and from the federal government is absolutely not good. Indeed, no official news has come out about Leah this past year, neither from her kidnappers, nor from the Federal Government of Nigeria. The silence is troubling. …The parents deserve to be briefed by the government, at least covertly. But we are not getting any of that.”
Jo Newhouse*, spokesperson for OD’s work in Sub Saharan Africa commented, “We understand that hostage negotiations do not appreciate media attention because it makes the water murky. We also understand that governments are often quiet about their efforts because of the discretion the sensitivity of this matter demands. However, there can be much more compassion towards the families of captives, and that is why OD has been urging the government to create a position within the Government for the sole purpose of maintaining an active family liaison and an open and accessible channel of communication with the traumatized parents of the hostages.”
ANSWER TO PRAYER
Amid the deafening silence, the past years have been harrowing for Leah’s dad Nathan, mom Rebecca, and brother Donald. But as hard as this has been, there is reason to thank the Lord for answered prayer. This family has not given up hope on being reunited with their Leah again one day.
Rev. Para Mallam told OD, “From what I can see, they remain hopeful that Leah will be back. Nathan, like Rebecca, remains hopeful and encouraged. What I want to highlight is that this whole experience has not broken their spirit. I am very glad about that, because we have been constantly praying and working for that not to happen. We need to uphold them in prayer, so that their spirits are not broken.
“We have seen something terrible happen with parents of Chibok girls who were kidnapped in 2014. After one and two years we saw a number of those parents die of heartbreak. They just couldn’t bear that. They couldn’t find their daughters. And they died. Mothers died. Fathers died. So, it is a miracle that God is sustaining Leah, Nathan, Rebecca, Donald and the rest of the family. This also is a very important prayer point, to pray that God gives them courage to (continue to) hope in Him,” Rev Para Mallam explains.
MANY OTHER “LEAH’S”
Leah is an inspiring young woman, and a representation of the many thousands more who share her fate. Boko Haram has in the last year contended with assaults from different angles. Chadian forces have pummeled them from the northeast, while Nigerian forces have continued their assault from the southwest. Yet the group still managed to take people captive. Not even COVID-19 has been able to slow them down.
“In one day in December, just before Christmas, they kidnapped 70 people. They killed over 50 people. And then again, on Christmas eve, they went to a number of villages in the Garkida area in Adamawa State and kidnapped a number of Christians. And we also know about an attack by Boko Haram on a rice farm in which they killed a little over a hundred people. So, despite the military offensives against them, Boko Haram still manages to cause havoc.”
On Wednesday, February 17, there was another mass kidnapping. Forty-two people were forcibly abducted from a school in the region of Kagara. Responsibility for this attack has not yet been claimed, but it serves as a reminder of the ongoing and increasing violence in Nigeria.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Although OD has made the decision to give the family space, we know they are aware of and welcome our efforts to keep up the awareness of Leah’s plight.
“You see, when you’re engaged in a struggle, people will come from different angles. It is a huge struggle that we need to keep going until all of the captives are set free…All (Kingdom) stakeholders can try their best to do everything, just like what OD is doing,” Rev Para Mallam concluded.
We call on supporters to continue to pray and raise awareness for Leah and many others who share our faith but not our freedom.