Editorial: Two years on; Leah Sharibu and Buhari’s empty promises

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President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday commemorated the second anniversary of the abduction of Leah Sharibu, the remaining Dapchi schoolgirl in captivity, with a vow to ensure her release. It is incredible to note that she is still in captivity. Sharibu was one of the 110 schoolgirls, aged between 11 and 19 years, kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yunusari LGA of Yobe State, on February 19, 2018. Weeks after the kidnap, the other girls were released while Sharibu was kept in captivity by the terrorists for refusing to renounce her faith. Six months later, an audio clip emerged in which the abducted schoolgirl pleaded with Buhari to help her regain freedom. The government said the clip would be verified to ascertain it was Sharibu’s voice, but there has been no update on the authenticity of the voice since. This has been the tragic ordeal of the Dapchi school girl who has spent an agonizing 730 days in captivity despite numerous promises by Nigeria’s president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The story of her defiance and refusal to renounce her faith is the stuff of legends.


Last year, Sharibu’s family and the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign group commemorated her first year in Boko Haram custody and called on the government to secure her release. Two years on, Buhari claims the federal government had redoubled its effort towards securing her freedom. In a statement he personally signed, Buhari regretted that Sharibu has remained in the custody of the terrorists because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. He repeated his assurance that his administration would continue to work to ensure the release of Sharibu, and all those in Boko Haram captivity.


Buhari’s statement, titled: “We’ll continue to seek and secure release of all children and captives of terrorists,” read: “Two years ago, 110 innocent children from the town of Dapchi were taken, against their will, by the terrorists of Boko Haram. 107 survived the ordeal. Today all but one – Leah Sharibu – are returned to their families. Now aged 16, Leah remains in the hands of the terrorists – they say because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.


“We say, as the government for and of all Nigerians, that no person has the right to force another to change their faith against their will and that all life is sacred. This government continues and seeks to secure the release of all children and captives of terrorists – and we do so regardless of their creed or the name of their creator. As we redouble our efforts for Leah’s return, we can never allow the terrorists to divide us – Christian against Muslim, Muslim against Christian. We are all Sons of Abraham. And all Nigerians have the same worth and rights before the law, and before God.”


In October 2018, President Buhari consoled Leah’s family and assured her parents that the federal government would do its utmost for the safety and security of their daughter. Then, the president was quoted as telling Mrs. Sharibu: “I convey my emotion, the strong commitment of my administration and the solidarity of all Nigerians to you and your family as we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety.” Despite Buhari’s assurance to Rebecca Sharibu, mother of Leah, the Dapchi secondary schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists, the Leah Sharibu albatross still hangs on Buhari’s neck as the hapless girl is still nowhere to be found. 


As we mark two years of her captivity, it is quite significant to remind the authorities in Abuja that the nation is still waiting for freedom for Citizen Leah Sharibu, the only Dapchi schoolgirl and Christian who is still being held captive because of her faith. Some aid workers had raised concerns about her safety but the federal government said all was well with her and they were continuing with negotiation to set her free. This begs the question: why has the negotiation been too difficult and inconclusive? It is expedient to remind Buhari that people’s anxiety is beginning to turn to fear of the unknown. And the implication is that, when hope is deferred, it makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.


It is unfortunate that Nigerians are still asking the same questions they asked last year when the story cropped up again like a sore thumb: when will several promises made on the release of Sharibu be fulfilled? Where is Sharibu? Is she alive? It is unfortunate that the answers to these questions continue to blow in the wind. Hopes were raised and dashed after Sharibu was not released before the 2019 elections because of the reference to a similar tragedy, involving another Nigerian, Zainab Aliyu; a Muslim girl, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia for alleged drug trafficking and whose release was secured by the presidency. Ms. Aliyu arrived Nigeria before the 2019 elections, while families and well-wishers marked the 16th birthday of Sharibu, still held in captivity. This was not a good contrasting optics in nation building at a time when religious fault lines are threatening the nation’s unity.


This ugly reality is a monumental embarrassment, because the “child” Leah had even cried out to her “father of the nation” to rescue her. Buhari should be reminded that the story of Leah’s capture and her continued detention as a result of her refusal to renounce her faith is legendary. That defiance echoes a bright message of selflessness, courage and hope. Sharibu symbolizes the nation’s resistance to terror. Still in captivity till date, despite President Buhari’s repeated promises to do everything to free her, she has since become the symbol of Nigeria’s refusal to give in to agents of darkness, hell-bent on dividing the country and creating an Islamic caliphate over a section of the nation’s territory.


By her principled stand, the battle for the soul of Nigeria has become one between a young girl with a heart and a garrison of devils with no souls. Leah remains missing but she has not missed her way. In the face of terror, she found a true guide in her heart and is now the number one soldier on the frontline in defence of Nigeria’s integrity, values and aspirations to unity, peace and progress. She turned down personal liberty and chose to put her life on the line so that the whole of Nigeria may fulfill the promise of freedom and prosperity. She is a national hero.


President Buhari’s word on Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls should be his bond. Recall that part of Buhari’s campaign promise on which he won election in 2015 was that he would secure the release of the Chibok school girls. The remaining 113 Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu are still in Boko Haram custody. So, it is inexcusable that Buhari has been unable to negotiate Leah Sharibu’s release for two years now and counting. There is no better way for the President to show Nigerians that he is not only their leader; he is the father of the nation; who has value for human lives and will go to any length to rescue and bring Nigeria’s missing daughters back home. Until that happens, Nigerians will continue to ask the question: “Mr. President, where is Leah Sharibu?”