“I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted from Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi,” she announced in the tape.
◗ Mum ill, relocated from Dapchi for care
◗ I feel abandoned by govt – Father
◗ Victim’s hijab dress sparks controversy
Chika Abanobi, Lagos; Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri; Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
For some months, the pathetic case of Leah Sharibu, one of the 110 girls abducted on February 19, 2018, from Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, but denied freedom, on account of her reported refusal to renounce her Christian faith, when 104 other girls were being released, seemed to have rescinded from public memory, after the initial public outcry, and consigned to a private, sole grief of parents and acquaintances. As a result, the mother of Leah is now sick and has been relocated from Dapchi, their place of residence to another state for proper medicare.
But a 35-second audiotape obtained by The Cable news, and posted online, last Monday, August 27, 2018, accompanied by a photograph of Leah wrapped up in Hijab, was all that was needed to push her troubling case back into public consciousness.
In the audiotape delivered in impeccable Hausa, the hapless girl, in a voice her father, Nathan, identified as his daughter’s, passionately appealed to government and all well-meaning people touched by her plight to do something to come to her rescue as well as her poor parents.
“I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted from Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi,” she announced in the tape. I am calling on government and people of goodwill to get me out of this problem. I am begging you to treat me with compassion. I am calling on the government, particularly, the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation.”
Her parents’ agonies
If those heart-rending words, delivered with a slightly shaky voice, evoked, in a helpless nation a mixture of anger and relief (that Leah is alive), to her seemingly hopeless parents, it brought a soothing effect reminiscent of Biblical Jacob’s, when told that his beloved son, Joseph, is alive and well, contrary to the dummy sold to him, years earlier, about his being devoured by a wild beast.
“I felt glad and happy when I heard her voice,” Nathan, Leah’s father told Saturday Sun. “Yes, that was our daughter’s voice. I recognized it and I was glad she’s still alive. It has been 190 days now that I haven’t seen her or heard her voice. My wife and I are happy that Leah is still alive and we are hoping she will return one day. We are aware of the audio in circulation concerning the unfortunate situation of our daughter, Leah Sharibu.”
Leah was in SS1 when she was kidnapped, along with the other girls. Saturday Sun checks show that the Sharibus’ house located about 400 metres away from the centre of the town where Boko Haram dropped the 104 freed girls on the morning of Tuesday March 20, was locked. Leah’s mother, Mrs. Sharibu who lived with the other siblings has temporarily moved to Adamawa State where her husband works. “She is getting sick these days so I asked her to move down to Adamawa State to stay with me for now,” Nathan told Saturday Sun.
Controversy over Leah’s appearance in Hijab
Talking about pressure, you wondered if Leah, who was initially said to have refused to renounce her Christian faith, in the early days of their abduction, may have yielded to it, somewhere along the line, and become converted to Islam, going by the Hijab she was seen wearing in her photo released on Monday.
“There was this girl called Leah, she is a Christian and Boko Haram didn’t release her with us because she refused to perform ablution and do prayer with us,” (referring to conversion to Islam), Fatima Mohammed who was among the freed girls told some reporters including Saturday Sun at Jumbam, near Dapchi 30 minutes after they were handed over to their parents at the heart of the town on March 20. Her friend, 12-year-old Khadijah Grema also corroborated the claim, adding that five of the girls died of exhaustion on the way into the bush on February 19.
It is too early to say whether she has been converted to Islam or not because the sight of girls covering themselves up from head to toe is a common one in the North, whether they are Muslims or Christians, Bishop Sola Ore cautioned. “But if indeed she has been converted, then it would be too sad because that is the very reason why her abductors refused to release her when other students were being released. On the other hand if truly she has converted to the other religion, then there is no reason keeping her there any longer. They should release her immediately like they did others who belong to their faith.”
“Having been kept with them for such a long time, her spirit and resistance must have been broken somewhere along the line to the point that she would be willing to do whatever they asked her to do,” Pastor Igba Iwar opined. “She must have been beaten or maybe threatened with death. But that is nothing to worry about. Let her come out first, then she will be in a position to determine which faith to follow, as long as that is not done under duress.”
“That is to be expected because she is at the mercy of her captors,” Pastor Margaret Mayaki observed. “I am sure they must have been sleeping with her, just to humiliate her. If they have been doing so, I pray she does not get damaged beyond repairs. I pray she does not become pregnant.”
Concerning the Hijab of a matter, Rev. Robert Jajere believes that the hood does not make the monk. “Although she appeared in Hijab, I don’t think she’s been converted,” he told Saturday Sun. “Don’t forget that when it comes to matters of faith, it is a matter of the heart, not the body. The only thing I can say is that she sounded depressed in the audio. And, you can’t blame her. She feels lonely.”
Asked the same question, Nathan’s voice, which had been rising intermittently and resonating in the course of the interview, lowered a bit, before he, without mincing words, dismissed the possibility of his daughter, changing her faith.
“I am not disturbed,” the 45-year-old-man insisted. “I’m not worried about her appearing in Hijab in the photograph posted by Boko Haram.” He maintained that he was convinced that his daughter won’t change her faith despite the attempt by his abductors to force her to wear the veil. “The Hijab they put on her is not anything to me. I know they can’t change her religion. She remains a Christian, it is her choice and not anybody’s,” he stated.
“If they are holding unto her because she is holding on to her faith, then she has chosen the right path just as Jesus said Mary has chosen the right path,” Mayaki remarked. “And that nobody can take away from her.”
Christian leaders’ appeal
Ministers of God who spoke to Saturday Sun on the release of the tape argued that inasmuch as they agree with the Presidency on the place or role of divinity in the Leah captivity conundrum, they want to see it do much more than it appears to be doing at the moment towards the release of the poor girl.
“My advice is, if indeed, it is confirmed that the voice is truly hers, the Buhari administration should expedite action to see that she is released as soon as possible,” Bishop Sola Ore, Chairman, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Lagos chapter appealed.
“I feel sad, very sad that a girl of that age and with such a bright prospect should be left in the hand of terrorists long after her schoolmates had been released,” Rev. Robert Jajere, immediate past chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Numan Local Government Area, Nasarawa State said. “It is true that we are under God, but we are also under the government. The Bible said they are ministers of God to execute judgment on the lawless and unruly. It said they don’t hold the sword in vain. So they should use it to punish the lawless and to protect the law-abiding ones. The idea of turning everything back to God, to me, does not arise at all, because God has put that power or sword in their hands, to execute judgment.”
“They were voted in for that purpose and government should not renege on their duty,” Pastor Igba Iwar of Deeper Life Bible Church, Egan District, Igando, Lagos, said. “Yes, there’s an aspect of God’s involvement but government should not use that as an excuse not to perform its duty towards its citizens, irrespective of their religious and political affiliations. If eventually she is not released, it would only go to confirm the belief that government only negotiated for the release of other girls because they were Muslims.”
“If Buhari administration has been putting needed pressure on her captors I am sure she would have been released by now,” Pastor Margaret Mayaki, a London-based Nigerian female pastor and founder of women ministry, remarked.
Assurances from the Presidency
Nathan appealed to the Federal Government to “do everything within its reach” to secure the release of Leah. He also begged the international community and media to “put more pressure” on the authority to ensure the girl’s return.
“I have confidence in the government’s position because it is their responsibility,” he said. “As they did for others, I expect them to do the same for my daughter. Now that they know that the girl is still alive, maybe they will do something and through your pressure; journalists and my loved ones, especially the Christian Association of Nigeria, they will do something. Even the Muslim community, I am receiving encouragement from them,” Nathan reported. “They are visiting me and praying for me all the time”, he added.
Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity however noted, while fielding a question, during a Channels TV programme, mid-week, “I believe that God is interested in that young girl and will ensure she is preserved. I think when that clip that we have is verified, at least one will be sure that it’s her and when that is determined, we should all be glad that she is alive.”
Asked to give a time frame on how much longer it would take for Leah to be released by his captors, Adesina remarked that “that question can only be answered by God” before adding that “by the grace of God, the government is working on it and we believe she will be back.” He added that Buhari has promised to do anything to rescue the kidnapped girls, even if it entails paying for their release, as long as they are brought home alive, at the end of it all.
Dapchi residents react
Dapchi residents said the audio of Leah was reassuring, adding that it has doused their fears about the girl’s safety. “We are also happy and her voice rekindles our hope that she is alive. It will help us to continue the struggle until she is released,” Kachalla Bukar, Secretary of Dapchi Abducted Girls’ Parents Association, said.
He added that the community was thrown into excitement on Monday when they heard about the Leah audio message, urging the government to act. He said the group had wanted to stage a peaceful demonstration in the Yobe state capital, Damaturu and Abuja to mount pressure on the government to effect the “unconditional release” of the girl but was handicapped by the ban on public procession. “The problem now is that we are not allowed to protest or demonstrate because of the ban,” he sighed.
Some military sources in Borno who are conversant with the activities of Boko Haram claimed the insurgents released the audio either to return themselves into the consciousness of Nigerians who may have forgotten about them due to the ongoing political events in the country or to negotiate for “some benefits” to fuel their operations. Some residents also said the audio could be a ploy by the insurgents to launch another terror act.
“Government should not use it (the issue of Leah’s release from captivity) to score cheap political point, maybe to time her release to coincide with next year election,” Iwar counseled. “It is a duty that government owes to itself, to the parents of the girl and to the entire nation to work for the immediate release of the girl.”
I FEEL ABANDONED BY GOVT– LEAH’S FATHER, SHARIBU
Following the news of the 35 minutes audio recording of Miss Leah Sharibu, the student of the Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, who was taken hostage in February, 2018, Leah’s father, Mr Nathan Sharibu, has opened up on how he received the audio recording of his daughter.
Mr Sharibu who said he received the news through his loved ones, said the audio recording has rekindled in him, the hope that his daughter is still alive, even though it has a different effect on his wife. He expressed sadness that no government official, at the local, state or federal level has deemed it fit to even contact his family.
Sharibu who spoke with Saturday Sun from his base in Adamawa state, however expressed confidence that President Muhammadu Buhari will secure the release of his daughter.
How did you receive the news of the 35 minutes audio recording of your daughter Leah?
Yes, I received it. It is my own daughter and I received it through my loved ones and I really appreciate it because for long, we didn’t hear about her. I even thought she is not even alive. But by hearing her voice yesterday (Monday), I am encouraged. I hope she is still alive.
The Federal Government said the Department of State Services (DSS) is investigating the audio recording. Did you really listen to it to ascertain that it is Leah’s voice?
Really, it is Leah’s voice. Leah is my daughter and that voice is confirmed as her voice.
A picture of Leah has also surfaced…
Can you also confirm if it is Leah’s picture?
It is Leah. Confirmed! It is Leah.
Since February when Leah was taken hostage, has there been any correspondence between you and her captors?
No. That one, no! Nobody has ever called me concerning her.
What about the government? Has anyone met with your family?
No, no, no! Both the school management and the local government; at the state level and the federal level, nobody has met me concerning it up till now.
The Federal Government said it is making efforts to get Leah released. Do you trust the government’s position?
Yes, I have confidence in the government’s position because it is their responsibility. As they did and risked through for others, they are supposed to do it at the same time.
What do you think led to the recording and the release of the audio?
It comes with encouragement. They will put pressure now knowing that the girl is still alive. Maybe they will do something and through your pressure; you people are pressurising them now, journalists and my loved ones, especially the Christian Association of Nigeria. They will do something concerning the pressure that they will put on the federal government now.
Apart from pleading with the government for her release, Leah also pleaded with members of the public to assist her mother, to assist you, her younger brother and her relatives. What kind of help is Leah talking about?
Leah knows that her absence from the family created a dull moment. So, she believes that when people assist and return her to the family, they have assisted the family entirely.
How about the Christian community, have you really been receiving encouragement from them?
Yes. Really, but even the Muslim community, I am receiving encouragement from them. They are visiting me, praying for me all the time.
What is your current state of mind and that of your immediate and extended family?
I am indeed, very comforted since I heard her voice yesterday. But before, I was totally disturbed. Although, the mother was totally disturbed yesterday when she heard the voice,butIasaman,Iwas encouraged by hearing that voice yesterday.
So, you are confident that your daughter is still alive?
Are you hopeful of her imminent return?
I am hoping; I am hoping! I am hoping Sir, I am hoping by God’s grace.