Nigeria: ‘Break the wall of silence and cry out for Leah Sharibu’s release!’

LEAH SHARIBU IS A NIGERIAN TEENAGER CAPTURED AT AGE 14 by the Islamic State of West (ISWAP) Africa Province, a breakaway faction of the terrorist group Boko Haram, on February 19, 2018. On the third anniversary of her captivity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) interviewed Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, a Protestant missionary and president of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation. He is in contact with Leah’s family.

What is the latest news you have on Leah?
Some aspects of the news I received about Leah in November are worrying, but I do not want to go into detail here. There is no way to verify, but it calls for prayers and concerted efforts, both local and global, to secure her release. The good news, however, is that Leah is still alive.

Leah Sharibu
Leah Sharibu

When was the last time you saw or heard from her?
Leah was last seen by her mother Rebecca at the end of January 2018, during her visit to the boarding school at Government Girl’s Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe State, in the north-east. Yobe State is speculated to be the birthplace of Boko Haram and it is now, along with Borno State, a center of the group’s operations. Since February 19th, 2018, when ISWAP invaded the school and kidnapped 110 girls, including Leah Sharibu, she has not been seen. On March 20th, 2018, when all the girls were freed, Leah was held after she refused to renounce her faith in Christ. So, the last people who saw Leah were her classmates. In September 2018, a video of Leah making an appeal for her release from captivity surfaced. That was the last time we heard directly from Leah.

Do we know where Leah is?
It is difficult to know exactly where she is. The terrorists, from what we hear, do not keep their captives in one location, but move them from one location to another. Sometimes we hear they are in the Lake Chad region, at other times in Niger or in Chad. It is hard to be precise. By the end of October 2018, her captors declared that Leah and others, like Alice Ngaddah (the UNICEF staffer and mother of two, who was kidnapped on March 1st, 2018), would be slaves for life. They were subsequently married off to some of the group’s commanders.

Some media reports spoke of Leah’s conversion to Islam. Has anything been proven or is this just speculation?
Yes, this is true. An eyewitness confirmed this rumor to me privately. But I asked a simple question: was this a voluntary or forced conversion? Do not forget that Leah is held in the first place because she decided at the young age of 14 to remain true to her Christian faith. What a heroine of the Christian faith that Leah is! Let’s pray for her to remain steadfast in her faith in Christ even at this dark hour when the test of her faith is being stretched to limits that even adults wouldn’t easily face. Leah, keep strong in Him!

Rev. Para-Mallam
Rev. Para-Mallam

How old is Leah now? She turned 17 in May 2020. Why is the world standing by and watching as she remains in unjust captivity?  Arise, citizens of the world, and break the wall of silence and cry out for the release of Leah Sharibu!

How is her family doing?
This evening (Feb. 17, 2021), I spoke with Leah’s parents again. We do this every now and then. They remain unbowed, and full of faith that one day they will see Leah. Their spirits have not been broken. They are full of pain. They received their last call from Leah in October 2018. Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, said: “We remain hopeful that Leah will be free one day.” Her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, said: “Times are in the hands of God and by His grace we will see Leah one day.” To their prayers, I say amen! Yesterday, as I prayed for Leah, God gave me this word of encouragement for Leah: “Do not be afraid little . . .  [Leah] for I myself will help you, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 41:13-14).

What is your message to ACN’s friends and donors?
I encourage all your donors to keep the faith alive concerning Leah as they pray. Support Leah’s parents practically as you may be able to. Challenge your government to use its power and diplomatic channels to raise Leah’s issue with our president and the relevant structures of power in Nigeria so that they act to free Leah and others in captivity. For how could a government be so powerless and helpless? Remember that, in addition to Leah, some of the Chibok girls are still unaccounted for. Sadly, another 27 school kids were kidnapped Feb. 17, 2021, from Kagara in Niger State. There are too many ungoverned spaces in Nigeria and our territorial integrity as a nation is compromised. Nigerians should unite and citizens of the world should also unite! This is not only about Leah Sharibu, but also about our shared humanity. It’s unbelievable, but today Leah Sharibu has spent 1,096 days in captivity. Let’s unite across borders and act to free Leah!

—Maria Lozano