…as Dapchi girl marks 15th birthday in B/Haram custody
By Sam Eyoboka
TWO days after her 15th birthday, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, revealed that the Buhari administration was doing everything necessary to free Dapchi girl Leah Sharibu and others in Boko Haram custody.
The minister said: “Mr President actually addressed that issue in Washington and my position is always the same that we are yet to resolve the issue of six girls. 111 girls were kidnapped (in Dapchi, Yobe State). 105 were returned and we are busy on daily basis asking and negotiating and asking what happened to those five officially, at least, and then what is delaying the young girl, Leah Sharibu”.
Leah was said to have been retained by Boko Haram terrorists when her colleagues were released on March 21 because she refused to renounce her Christian faith for Islam.
After the abduction on the night of February 19, the Federal Government had swiftly opened a channel of negotiation with Boko Haram for the return of the victims. 33 days later, on March 21, it secured the release of 107 of the girls (all Muslims) but it has taken more than 60 days to secure the release of the only Christian girl among them.
One of the freed girls, Khadija Grema, confirmed that the terrorists decided to continue to hold Leah because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Speaking to our correspondent on phone from his Yola, Adamawa State base, last Tuesday, one day after the girl’s 15th birthday, Leah’s father, Mr Nathaniel Sharibu, said government had not make any contact with the family since their daughter’s abduction.
“No delegation has visited the family since the February 19 episode. Not even a telephone call from anybody. Nobody has called me,” he said, stressing that the abduction of their daughter had been traumatic for the family, especially the mother “who is daily weeping”.
Asked what the family did on her birthday, last Monday, Sharibu, a policeman, who said he had planned to host his first child and her friends to a party on the 15th birthday, claimed to have ended arranging for prayers for her in Dapchi and Yola instead.
The embattled father, who hails from Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State, said the family had no choice than to lift the fate of Leah to God in fasting and prayer.
“Right now, I am in Yola on official duty and the church I attend here held prayer sessions for my daughter just as our church in Dapchi did same,” he said.
According to him, Rebecca, his wife and mother of Leah, who lives alone in their apartment after the relocation of their only son from Dapchi, joined the prayer chain in the Dapchi branch of ECWA “but as a woman she was crying most of the time”. The mother, quite understandably, was inconsolable and in a deep state of mourning while other parents celebrated the return of their children on March 21.
“It is very sad, I must tell you. I had proposed to arrange a befitting birthday party for her and her colleagues in the neighborhood but now we don’t even know her whereabouts. It’s so sad,” he said, fighting off tears.
He confirmed that the whole town was in sad mood.
“Even those whose children were returned are very sad about my daughter’s absence. Though we are not of the same religion with them, they are just not happy and they are helping us in prayers too. They are doing their possible best through prayers to lift our burden”, Sharibu said.
The father pointed out that neighbors had daily been visiting his wife to counsel her, appealing to the Federal Government to alleviate the pains of the family by ensuring speedy release of Leah to rejoin the family.
Reverend Daniel Auta, the superintendent of the Dapchi branch of ECWA, also spoke on the Sharibu family troubles.
“I feel very uncomfortable and unhappy about the continued stay of Leah Sharibu in Boko Haram custody. Government is very slow to bring her back to us here in Dapchi”, Auta said.
“The way the Federal Government is handling the issue, after President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged not to sleep until the girl and the remaining Chibok girls are released, is not the best way because this girl has spent such a long time in the camp of these terrorists.
“We are all the more concerned because we don’t know her present situation….we don’t know whether or not she is well. But we are praying without ceasing so that God will restore Leah to her parents’ house soonest.”
Auta described the young girl as a heroine of faith.
“We are proud of her and prayed for her safe freedom on her 15th birthday on Monday. We thanked God for her protection right from May 14, 2003 when she was born and up till now that is 15”, the pastor said.
“We focused our prayers on her release and God to increase her in faith and strength”.
Asked how the church was helping Leah’s mother in this difficult time, especially against the backdrop of the report that she slipped into coma on March 21 when her daughter’s fellow school mates were returned to Dapchi, Auta said he and other ECWA members in the community visits the house where the Sharibu family had lived for over 20 years to counsel and pray with her.
“So many times, we visit her and encourage her because I was one of those who rushed her to hospital when she went into coma and she recovered after two days in the hospital,” he stated.
“She’s alone in the rented apartment where she had stayed for over 24 years even before she started having children. My appeal goes to the Federal Government to do everything within its powers to secure the freedom of this innocent schoolgirl and the future hope of the girl- child.
“I am urging the Federal Government to ensure the release of Leah to return to her parents soon”.