…as Dapchi girl spends New Year in terrorists’ custody
By Sam Eyoboka
THE International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, IFES, Regional Secretary for English and Portuguese-speaking Africa, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam’s recent ‘Christmas in captivity….Leah Sharibu and others’ video lamented the plight of Leah Sharibu; Alice Loksha, who was working for UNICEF, and several other schoolgirls abducted from Chibok in Borno State who Nigeria has allowed to spend Christmas and New Year in the captivity of Islamist terrorists.
Leah, who was abducted alongside 112 other hostages from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, has spent nearly one year as a captive of the terror group, Islamic States West African Provinces, ISWAP-ISIS, headed by Abdul-Fadl Iyad Gali.
107 of the 113 originally abducted girls had been released after negotiations with the Federal Government which claimed that five of them died on their way, leaving Leah as the lone captive because she declined to renounce her religion, Christianity.
In the four minutes and six seconds video, Para-Mallam pricked the conscience of the world as follows: “Christmas represents hope and freedom because God’s power has transformed the hopelessness we see in the world today. But the freedom of Christmas in 2018 is not the case for Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha, the Chibok girls and several other Nigerians who are in captivity.
“Just for a moment, think and ask yourself if Leah Sharibu were to be your daughter, if Alice Loksha were to be your sister, if the Chibok girls were to be your daughters, how would you enjoy Christmas knowing that they are in captivity? This is why today, even though Christmas is a season of joy, we remember with deep heart what Leah Sharibu is going through spending Christmas in captivity.
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“Once again, we want to appeal to Christians; we want to appeal to Muslims; we want appeal to all who care for the good of humanity, who care for the freedom of the innocent in Nigeria who are under Boko Haram captivity that they be remembered, that they be prayed for. I want to appeal to all the good people of this world; all the people of conscience—-men and women of conscience of this world—-to rise up and cry out and advocate for the freedom of Leah Sharibu.
“Where are the diplomatic channels that can be explored that this girl is set free? A 15-year-old girl! The conscience of the world needs to aroused, the whole world needs to stand to see that Leah is set free. The United Nations, the European Union, African Union, African presidents, European leaders, American president, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian government, our government, what will you do to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha, the Chibok girls and several others who are in Boko Haram captivity in their own country?
“If you are watching this and you are in a position to help, what will you do? Let us rise with faith and hope and in the spirit of Christmas to see that our fellow Nigerians are no longer in captivity. Let us also remember the internally displaced in our nation, Nigeria. May God have mercy! May God help us all”.
Moved by the video recording, Sunday Vanguard decided to put a call through to the Ahmadu Bello University-trained scholar for more comments.
His response: “I speak to Leah’s parents…they speak to me regularly. They have not heard anything as of three days ago from government when I spoke to them. They basically pleaded with me to keep doing the much I can do until Leah is free.
I just sent a text to someone in the U.S. We will continue until Leah is free. “If Leah is not free, we can’t stop. It’s unbelievable if government ever thinks silence means we are pleased. We have not given up. We will continue. “And I hope that one day a leader from this country will see the need to take the release of, not only Leah Sharibu but also others who are in captivity, as a priority.
“We are in a new year. We have to make the issue of Leah and other captives as a campaign issue. The issue of security needs to be a top level consideration that if the next president cannot address the issue of security, I don’t know why he is looking for votes”.
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Told that some people are worried about the Christian leadership of this country, he answered, “I do also. I was privileged to be on the panel that interviewed the presidential candidates. I can tell you that the issue of Leah Sharibu and security in general were very prominent in the interview. I can assure you that security is being taken very seriously by CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) and that all these deaths do not continue. Government has also managed to curtail the situation. I can tell you that there are just two local governments that we have incidents of attacks. In fact only one local government had incident of attack during Christmas. The other local government happened in the middle of November. So we are making progress that the killings don’t continue.
“What I’m saying is that if we leave security in the hands of government alone, we are doomed. I foresee a situation whereby Nigerians will troop to the streets and, whether government likes it or not, when millions of Nigerians pour out, we will find a way out of what Boko Haram is doing.
“There are genuine Nigerians who want to stop this. My concern is that we want government to fix this; and if we truly want to fix it, we cannot be talking about secrecy! That is what we got during President Jonathan’s time; four years down the line, we are back to square one. Corruption is not just about money, there is electoral corruption.
You cannot have corruption going on in the warfront and everything will be hidden under the talk of national security. There was a declaration that government was going tough on Boko Haram after a meeting of defence ministers from Chad, Cameroun and Niger. Now, instead of Boko Haram being out on the run, we are the ones on the run. Why do you have to make declarative statements if you are not sure of what’s happening on the ground? Is this propaganda war? “People are dying; it’s more than propaganda war. You accuse the previous government of being weak, how do you define this one? They say Jonathan was weak on security, what will you say about this one? Is Buhari strong on security?”
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Saying this is not a good way to run a country, he went on, “Has anybody from government bothered about Leah Sharibu’s parents? No call. That is a reality. I don’t want anybody from SSS coming to ask me questions, we have issues on ground and we are not active”.
When asked what senior religious leaders in the Middle Belt are doing to tackle the Boko Haram issue, Para-Mallam stated, “As a Christian leader, I actually operate at the continental level. I have supervised 27 countries in Africa and I’ve been doing that for some time. But I do have a rule within Nigeria that I still have to remember my country; so my reach is actually global. Some of those meetings that they do, I’ve never really had the chance to attend. The meeting at Aso Rock over Leah would really be directly with the ECWA president and executives, so they will answer. The meeting with President Buhari when Rev. Yakubu Pam organised some leaders under Northern CAN was actually held when I was away on sabbatical. I was just coming into the country when I heard that my name was on the list of those expected to attend. I just came back from sabbatical to deliver a paper on obstacles to effective leadership in Ghana.
So I was not around. What I’ve done is to try to make appeal directly to the federal government through newspaper publications. I’ve also tried through videos, and one of them led to the president calling Leah’s mum. During these private meetings, some of us have asked and, in fairness, we have not asked because we don’t want to oppose government, but because we want to work as partners with government and get results. We are not getting results on the partnership. We are not seeing the comprehensive efforts”.
On whether there isn’t any other approach to adopt on freeing Leah other than the government is taking, he said, “The video you watched on “Christmas in captivity” is changing the narrative. You can also see the level of appeals on that video. We have gone virtually to everybody who has conscience to do something. African leaders, once upon a time, used to be asked to be accountable. The issue of having Africans being captives in their land should be an issue of major political action by African leaders.
Why should Africans be captives in their own land? The fundamental human rights of people who fought colonialism and are free cannot come back and be hostages and captives in their own country and it is allowed and nobody is raising serious questions about that. “African leaders, we cannot go back to slavery in the name of insurgency.
So I think we need to be able to up the game of advocating for the freedom of those who are in captivity beyond the borders of Nigeria. We need to appeal to the conscience of the world. We need to tell African leaders to rise up and hold one another accountable. The Ghanaian president should be able to say to Nigeria’s President Buhari, what’s going on with Leah Sharibu? It is not enough for Buhari to say “we are doing our best”. If you are doing your best, your best has to lead to something. Part of national security is to carry the nation along.
“Periodically, let there be honest updates to Nigerians on what is happening. It is not fair for the Minister of Information to just come and make flamboyant statements. Let’s be realistic. Let government admit they really can’t resolve this and ask people of goodwill in this nation to help, and I know there are.
Why was it that in the era of Jonathan, there were groups that said they wanted to help in fighting Boko Haram but swindled government and disappeared? Doesn’t government have a way of managing quality control? Is it just anybody that comes and you believe that person? We are a nation of over 180 million people; you cannot tell me that we can’t find a way. One of the ways is to engage in honest and constructive dialogue. Just because you have political power does not mean you have all the answers to the problems of Nigeria”.
Asked whether Christian leaders have done enough to find solutions to the security challenges facing the nation, he answered, “Our Christian leaders are doing their best, but it is not enough! Let me ask you, have we had a situation in which the entire Church will rise up to bring this nation to a standstill on account of one person in captivity? Think of apartheid in South Africa! How did apartheid end? The whole nation, even the Church, discovered that if they didn’t get into this, nothing will happen. Some people were expelled from their churches because they supported anti-apartheid struggle. But eventually the country was freed for all. So the Church needs to do more. I’ll encourage the Church to reach out to the Muslim community, the clerics, genuine Christians and Muslims to find a solution to this terrible situation of internal captivity.
Christians in Nigeria need to march out in their numbers across the country to say enough is enough. Think about Liberia, this lady called Mrs Lehmah Gbowee, was troubled. She, together with another woman, Comfort Freeman, decided to mobilise thousands of Muslim and Christian women from various classes to staged silent non-violent protests that included a sex strike and the threat of a curse. The women went to the airport and they were crying that the leaders should allow peace to reign in Liberia. The Christian women began the action.
Within a short while, a Muslim woman, who was a top woman in the country joined them, saying it is not only Christians who were suffering in the country. They occupied the airport and when the U.N was brokering a peace agreement, these women mobilised half naked and surrounded the building and said they were not going to leave until a peace accord was signed. And they refused to leave. There was no way the leader and warlords with the negotiators could leave because the women barricaded the place. That movement started in 2003 by women in Monrovia that worked to end the second Liberian Civil War.
“That’s why I said the Church has done her best but it needs to do more. Action of government is not giving us results; action of the Church is also not giving us results. We have to continue until we see results. And I don’t want to see the struggle for the release of Leah Sharibu; it needs to be a struggle for all.