23 February 2019

Nigeria: Govt Must Not Give Up On Leah Sharibu

Photo: The Guardian
Leah Sharibu.

One year has passed since Leah Sharibu was abducted by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an affiliate of Boko Haram. As it had done on numerous occasions in the past one year, the family of Leah used the one year anniversary of her abduction to remind the federal government of its promise to secure her release from the captivity of terrorists.

Leah, now 15, is the only girl still in captivity in the Dapchi schoolgirls' kidnap. The terrorists had struck on February 19 last year at Government Girls' Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, and abducted 110 teenage girls in similar fashion to that of Chibok in Borno State four years earlier during which Book Haram terrorists led by Abubakar Shekau abducted 276 students in 2014.

Just like the Chibok incidence, conspiracy theories surrounded the Dapchi mass abduction with claims from some quarters that the security agencies were warned in advance of the Dapchi attack but failed to act.

However, one month later the girls were returned to the community by their abductors except five who had died in the process and Leah who was withheld by the terrorists for refusing to convert to Islam. Incidentally, she was the lone Christian among the pack.

One year after, Leah has remained in the terrorists' dungeon despite several promises by the federal government to secure her release the same way it freed her counterparts.

Since then the parents of Leah have been running from pillar to post seeking the release of their only daughter. They have resorted to both litigation and passionate appeals to the federal government but to no avail.

Her case took a more urgent dimension in August and September last year. On August 18, a video went viral in which she pleaded with the Buhari administration and other people of goodwill to have pity on her and rescue her from her predicament.

On September 17, the terrorists released a video showing how they summarily executed Saifura Husseini Ahmed, one of the three humanitarian workers with the Red Cross and UNICEF they had kidnapped in the bloody attack on Rann community in Borno State on March 1, 2018. In the video, they threatened to kill the remaining two aid workers, Hauwa Leman and Alice Ngaddah, as well as Leah Sharibu.

The terror group gave one-month ultimatum from the day the threat was made, meaning that if by October 18, 2018, there was no agreement with the government, Leah and the other two would be killed.

Following this blood-chilling demonstration by the terrorists that they meant business, many Nigerians, including this newspaper, joined Leah's parents in appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure the release of their daughter before the October deadline given by Boko Haram to eliminate her, especially as the government had recorded initial success in negotiating with her captors for the release of her mates. Sadly, the terrorists eventually killed the other two aid workers and kept Leah alive, vowing to enslave her.

As a newspaper, we call on this administration not to give up on Leah Sharibu. Since it has confirmed that the girl is alive, there is hope that she can still come out of this ordeal since the terrorists have shown they are willing to negotiate. In the aftermath of the release of Leah's mates, information minister, Lai Mohammed, had explained that the government had achieved the feat with a strategy of 'back channel' negotiation with the terrorists, for which it was commended by all Nigerians. In the same vein, the government should retool that strategy to achieve the remainder of the task and return Leah home. Notably, this administration has recorded remarkable successes in negotiating with the terrorists, leading to the release of scores of the Chibok schoolgirls and other captives.

It is understandable that most of the attention of government and the security agencies is focused on getting the general elections over the line. That we appreciate. Notwithstanding, we also urge this administration to commit itself totally to bringing Leah home; not just her but also the remnants of the Chibok schoolgirls who have been in Boko Haram captivity for nearly five years and other captives whose ordeals are not in the public domain.

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