Miss Leah Sharibu, the lone student of the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State, who remains in the grip of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents, marked her 15th birthday on Tuesday, 15th May 2018. She was the only Christian among the 110 girls abducted on 19th February 2018, but when the terrorists returned 105 captives on 21st March they informed the Federal Government that five of the girls died and Leah was being withheld because she refused to renounce her faith.
The President Muhammadu Buhari administration has a heavy moral burden in ensuring that Miss Sharibu is returned to her family safe and sound and as quickly as possible. In the first place, it was unconscionable that the Dapchi girls' abduction should have taken place even while the sad chapter on the Chibok schoolgirls had yet to be closed.
That the Dapchi abduction took place reaffirmed Nigeria as a country that does not learn from its painful experiences. The Chibok girls, who were taken away on 14th April 2014 under very controversial circumstances, went a long way in strengthening the terrorists and elongating the anti-terror war. It also played a major role in turning the voters against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan who was denied a second term in 2015.
Buhari came to power with the promise not to declare Boko Haram defeated until every Chibok girl had been rescued or accounted for. It is a major disappointment that the Dapchi abduction had to add to the injury of the lingering Chibok saga. The manner in which the Dapchi girls were taken and returned by the terrorists left so many questions unanswered about the seriousness attached to the safety of our children in their schools.
Leah Sharibu's insistence on her right to her religious faith is affirmed in Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Every Nigerian is free to hold any faith of their choice without hindrance, provided that he or she does not infringe on the religious rights of others. The Federal Government has a duty to explore every possible avenue to secure the release of Leah Sharibu and return her to her family to continue her education. President Buhari should remain committed to his pledge to ensure Leah's rescue. The more this saga lingers the more the impression is being created that she is already being forgotten.
We also urge the Federal Government not to forget the families of the five girls who died in the hands of the terrorists. Their safety was entrusted in the hands of government but unfortunately this was betrayed through avoidable lapses. Those behind the lapses must be brought to book and the families duly compensated.
We are watching and expectant.