Parents of abducted Christian schoolgirl make fresh appeal for her rescue

Leah Sharibu(Photo: Open Doors UK)

The parents of a Christian schoolgirl abducted by Islamist extremists in Nigeria five years ago have demanded her rescue from captivity. 

Leah Sharibu was one of 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Government Girls Science and Technical School in Dapchi, Yobe State, in February 2018. She was just 14 years old at the time. 

Boko Haram now goes by the name of Islamic State – West Africa Province (ISWAP). 

There have been conflicting reports about Leah’s plight in captivity. Unverified reports have cited “local security sources” as saying that she divorced her first husband. Other reports claim he was killed in clashes. There have also be reports that she has married another ISWAP commander.

Her parents, Nathan and Rebecca Sharibu, have questioned the reports and repeated their calls to the Nigerian government to rescue their daughter. 

“Why should we believe these local security sources?” they said in a statement released on their behalf through the Leah Foundation.

“If they have intelligence on Leah’s whereabouts and any information, then where are the Nigerian armed forces?

“Why isn’t the government involved in securing her release?”

The statement continued: “Our family remains grief-stricken by our daughter’s capture and ongoing imprisonment.

“We demand the rescue of Leah Sharibu and all others who are in captivity in the hands of terrorists.”

Out of the 110 kidnapped schoolgirls, Leah is the only one who has never been released because she refused to give in to their demands to convert to Islam. 

Little is known about her circumstances in captivity during the last five years but there have been reports that she now has two children. 

A Nigerian Christian barrister who cannot be named for security reasons said the family want reassurances from the new administration under President Bola Tinubu that the government is still working towards her release.

“Leah’s parents want to hear what the Nigerian government is doing to rescue her,” the barrister said.

“Updates on her marital situation are extremely demoralising. We don’t know if these reports are credible – they could well be no more than propaganda issued by the jihadists to discourage Nigerian Christians.

“However, if they are true, then the Nigerian government should have seized the moment – before Leah was married off again – to free her from captivity. Now Nigerian Christians believe that the government might have lost the moment.

“The previous government under Buhari promised to secure Leah’s release. Hopes were dashed when those promises came to nothing. The current government under Tinubu has not yet come out to address Leah’s situation at all – nor have they addressed the wider security situation in Nigeria.”

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors, a global organisation supporting persecuted Christians, said, “Leah wasn’t released when all her classmates were because she held strong in her faith and refused to convert to Islam.

“She is a symbol of how faithful Nigerian Christians can be when faced with extreme violence and adversity.

“Reports that she has renounced her Christian faith or has the freedom to ‘divorce’ a man she was forcefully married to only serve to discourage Nigerian Christians.

“We are urging Nigeria’s new President Bola Tinubu to liberate the hostages held by Boko Haram, including young Christian girls such as Leah Sharibu and the Chibok girls who are still held captive.”

Nigeria is number six on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries where life is most dangerous for Christians.

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