By Ikechukwu Amaechi
I hope we will still remember her in the next six months or one year. Leah Sharibu, I mean. She is one of the 110 girls abducted by the Al Barnawi faction of the Boko Haram terrorist group on February 19, 2018 from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State.
She was 14 years then. On Monday, May 14, she turned 15. A birthday that should have called for celebration became a sad reminder of her frightening fate – 83 days in captivity. Her highly distraught mother was inconsolable. A flood of tears bore testimony to her anguish.
The teenager’s case is disheartening. An ardent Christian, her abductors made the renunciation of her faith a precondition for her release. She refused, preferring captivity and possible death if need be.
Had she decided otherwise, Leah would have been freed on March 21, together with 104 other colleagues. We are told that five of the hapless girls died in captivity.
It is instructive that almost two months after, the identities of the dead girls remain a mystery.
Government’s seeming lack of interest
I still have my doubts just like many other Nigerians about what really happened in this Dapchi abduction saga. But that is a story for another day.
What worries me today is government’s seeming lack of interest in bringing back this remarkable girl with uncommon courage.
Some Nigerians living in denial try not to clothe the Boko Haram terrorists and Fulani herdsmen in religious garb, but Leah’s case has put a lie to the façade, becoming, as it were, a defining moment.
It also put the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in a quandary. On what condition did the terrorists release the other girls, keeping back the Christian among them? Did the government know of the intention of the terrorists to hold on to Leah as a trophy? How much was paid to secure the release of the other girls? How much more do they want to release Leah Sharibu? Or they just want her to become a Moslem before they will open the gates of heaven for her?
On her birthday, Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, accused the federal government of abandoning his family.
“It is very sad and the family is very weak,” he said.
“To be honest, I have not received any support from the government but from the community and church members, I thank God because they have been encouraging me, lifting me through their prayers, visitation and words of advice.
“I have not heard anything from federal, state and local governments since my daughter was abducted. I am even confused now.”
He pleaded with Nigerians to mount pressure on the government to do something about his daughter’s unnerving fate.
The advocacy group, Bring Back our Girls (BBOG), also accused the federal government of abandoning Leah’s family and the Dapchi community.
Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu and Florence Ozor, leaders of the group, insisted on Monday that there was no reason why the arrangement made by the government to secure the other girls’ release should leave out Leah.
“Leah Sharibu, the only #DapchiGirl who remains in captivity (for refusing to renounce her faith and convert to another religion) turns 15 years of age today,” the group said in a statement.
“Our movement is extremely saddened and distraught on this 83rd day of her captivity, and the fact that the young teenager has had to mark her birthday in captivity with terrorists.
“It is unconscionable that the family, community, and the public has gotten no updates since the federal government made empty promises in March about prioritising her return.
“We call on the federal government to return her immediately. There is no reason any arrangements with the terrorists should have left her out, in the first place.”
Crux of the matter
That is the crux of the matter. Did the government know that the terrorists would keep Leah as a cherished trophy? If yes, was it aware of the reason?
What will Boko Haram gain if Leah renounces her faith? How much did the government pay to secure the release of the 104 girls? Is it not possible that Leah is being kept so as to force the government to pay more?
Or could it be that the federal government is using Leah as the joker in its 2019 political pack of cards? Just as the orchestrated abduction and release of the girls fortuitously coincided with President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of his intention to run for a second term, will Leah’s release be a pre-election gift to Nigerians by the presidency?
There are many questions begging for answers. As the 2019 elections draw close, there are bound to be more “pressing national issues” on the plate of a president who is not prepared to take prisoners on his way back to Aso Rock.
Leah Sharibu’s fate will become inconsequential. The government will sooner than later move on, that is, if it has not done so already.
Nigerians, like their government, will also move on because we have the penchant to do just that. Because we are a people that don’t believe in anything, Leah’s audacity in the face of imminent danger is strange. Because this is a country where the end, no-matter how odious, will always justify the means, some have even questioned the wisdom in her action.
Why would she say no to her captors’ demand that she renounces her faith when a yes could have brought her home, they ask. Such people are always looking for validation.
But Leah Sharibu does not need any. At 15, she has become a metaphor, the nation’s conscience. Her uncommon resolve to pay the ultimate price if need be rather than renounce her faith is the stuff legends are made of. It is a lesson in steadfastness and honour.
In climes where elections are framed on issues, Leah Sharibu’s fate should determine the tenor of the 2019 elections. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not one of such places.
Nonetheless, government owes the people a duty to either rescue this 15-year-old girl or explain cogently why it cannot. Nigerians also owe themselves the duty to demand accountability from their government on this issue.
Ikechukwu Amaechi is the MD/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche on Sunday newspaper, Ikeja, Lagos.