Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, turns 18

“LEAH, IT’S BEEN THREE YEARS SINCE YOUR DISAPPEARANCE at the hands of Boko Haram elements in your school in Dapchi, Yobe state in northeastern Nigeria,” says Father Simon Okechukwu Ayogu, a Nigerian priest, who met with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He was addressing Leah Sharibu, a young Christian girl kidnapped Feb. 19, 2018 by Boko Haram, the Islamist terror group.

Leah has turned 18. This was the third time she spent her birthday in captivity. Leah Sharibu and 110 classmates were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. However, about a month later, all the schoolgirls were released, apart from Leah, who was only 14 years old at the time and had refused to convert to Islam as the terrorists has demanded. She has been held ever since.

Father Simon sent the message through ACN for the benefit of Leah and her parents, but it is also meant to alert society to the plight of Christians in Nigeria: “Maybe it is good to imagine what it would be like to have a daughter, a sister, or a niece go missing for a day, a week, or a year. We are talking about three years. Leah, as you turn 18 on this day, we, just like your parents who are currently on tenterhooks, look forward to the moment when you will come back home.”

Father Simon Okechukwu Ayogu is currently a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Braga, in Portugal. Several times in cooperation with ACN, he shed light on the extremely difficult situation in which the Christian community in northern Nigeria finds itself, due to the actions of Boko Haram, which intends to establish a caliphate in the region. Kidnappings have been one of the intimidating activities of this terrorist group.

The priest knows that Leah’s release is difficult. But it is not impossible. His message also seeks to be a sign of hope. “We, along with the whole world, are waiting for you. We are waiting for this miracle of seeing you alive one day.” Regarding the rumors indicating the possibility that Leah Sharibu was forced to marry a Boko Haram commander and that she could even have children with him, Father Simon says: “That matters little. What we want is to get you back.”

Leah Sharibu at age 15

Father Simon Ayogu also questions how the Nigerian authorities have been handling this case: “It is a rather inept government that has not been able to provide security for its citizens. A government should use this situation as a wake-up call to review its suitability and its capability and take decisions to do its job well.”

In February, on the third anniversary of Leah Sharibu’s abduction, ACN contacted the Protestant leader Gideon Papa-Mallam. He said that the latest news about Leah Sharibu “is worrying,” but said he cannot reveal details. “The good news,” said the Protestant leader who is also a friend of the young Christian girl’s family, “is that Leah is still alive, and this fact is, by far, the most encouraging one.”

The young woman’s location is uncertain. Papa-Mallam says that, according to the meager information available, “the terrorists do not keep their prisoners in one location but move them around.” Therefore, “it’s hard to say exactly where Leah might be right now. Sometimes we hear that they are in the Lake Chad region, and sometimes in Niger or Chad. It is difficult to be precise.”

Leah Sharibu’s story is extraordinary because she is very young and showed enormous courage in the eyes of her captors, Papa-Mallam told ACN. Leah decided, “at the tender age of 14 to remain faithful to her Christian conviction. What a heroine of the Christian faith Leah is!” Leah turned 18 on May 14, 1153 days since she has abducted.

—Paula Aido