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Hope fading as Leah Sharibu marks another birthday in Boko Haram custody




IF Leah Sharibu was home with her parents on a day like this, perhaps she would have been woken from sleep with ‘happy birthday’ songs, a cake brought to her bedside, and she be told to make a wish for her 16th birthday.

Or perhaps her friends would have made her stand in the middle of the class and serenade her with songs and birthday wishes. But all those would remain a fantasy in Leah Sharibu’s heart as she remains a captive in Sambisa forest − for a second consecutive birthday − held by the vicious Boko Haram group.

Boko Haram attacked Government Girls Technical College, Dapchi, in the night of February 19, 2018, a day after the soldiers positioned in the town were moved to another location and snatched Leah Sharibu and 109 other female students into the forest.

A month later, precisely on March 21, all but six of the abducted girls were released following a negotiation between the federal government and the terrorists, brokered by the Swizz government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Out of the six, only Sharibu remains in captivity, the five others had died in captivity. She was detained because she refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam.

Millions were paid by the federal government, in hard currency, to secure the release of the Dapchi girls, according to reports including one by the United Nations Security Council, though the Muhammadu Buhari administration has consistently denied this.

Since the past year, it has been one promise after another from President Buhari and his Deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, but it appears there is no concrete action yet to secure the release of the poor Christian girl. At least, none that is known to Nigerians.

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On August 27, 2018, Boko Haram released an audio clip in which Sharibu was making a passionate appeal to the president to “to pity me and get me out of this situation”. Days later, on September 7, protesters, including a UK lawmaker, carried out demonstrations at Nigerian embassies across the world, calling on the Nigerian government to secure Leah’s release, but that too did not yield any result.

Leah Sharibu’s captors then started a campaign of mental torture where some hostages were shot at close range while she watched. They first executed Saifura Ahmed, an aid worker with the Red Cross who was captured in Rann, Borno State, and left the following message: “We contacted the government through writing and also sent audio messages but the government have ignored us. So, here is a message of blood. The other nurse and midwife will be executed in a similar manner in one month, including Leah Sharibu.”

One month later, they made good their promise and killed Hauwa Leman, another aid worker, but spared Sharibu and another aid worker, Alice Ngaddah, whom they said would be their slave for life.

While all these happened, the presidency could only issue a statement, calling on the international community to prevail on Boko Haram “to stop these acts of extreme barbarism”. President Buhari would later make a phone call to Sharibu’s mother assuring her that “we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety”. President Buhari’s “best” is yet to be seen.

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