© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
The trial of Leah Sharibu, the sacrificial lamb
By Azuka Onwuka
When the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls were returned last week by Boko Haram terrorists, a new story developed from the kidnap saga. Excluding the five dead girls that did not make it back, only one girl named Leah Sharibu was not brought back by the terrorists. The reason given was that she refused to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. Consequently, Boko Haram members refused to release her.
Some people made comments describing her action as unwise, childish, and a result of indoctrination. There were those who felt that it was better for her to have renounced her faith, accepted Islam and come out alive first.
Some have compared Leah to Amasa Firdaus, the lady who refused to remove her hijab during the call to bar of lawyers in December 2017. But Leah’s case is different. Leah was abducted against her will and compelled to renounce her faith and accept another faith to gain her freedom. Amasa willingly chose to study law, knowing full well the dress code required at the university as well as at the swearing-in of lawyers and in the courtrooms.
She saw the rule that she must remove her hijab as being against her faith and decided to disobey it, which is her right to do. That act brought attention to the issue. It could end up making the Council of Legal Education to remove that requirement or retain it, thereby making her not to be called to bar. Whichever way it goes, she had made a point and will be remembered for challenging the status quo.
But the unfortunate angle is the blame heaped on little Leah instead of the Boko Haram people that abducted her in the first place and wanted her to renounce her faith and adopt their own faith to gain her freedom. It is the typical Nigerian attitude of blaming the victim instead of the oppressor and pointing out all the wrong things the victim did that caused his or her plight.
It is the choice of Leah to decide not to renounce her faith in the face of trouble, including death. It is not foolishness. Martin Luther King Jnr said: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Wisdom does not start and end in one renouncing what one stands for to save one’s neck. Being alive is not the most important aspect of life.
Interestingly, Nathan Sharibu, the father of Leah, said he was proud that his daughter did not renounce her faith even at the risk of death. So why are those not related to the girl and do not feel the pain of her abduction acting the role of the outsiders who cry more than the bereaved?
Over the weekend, Arnaud Beltrame, a French police officer, volunteered to trade places with a hostage taken by a gunman. He was eventually killed. He was not foolish. His brother, Cedric, was quoted as saying: “He gave his life for strangers. He must have known that he didn’t really have a chance. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what would.” That some people cannot make such a sacrifice does not mean that they are wiser than those who do. It is just a matter of values.
When Nelson Mandela chose to reject the offer for freedom rather than renounce his struggle for the end of apartheid, he was neither foolish nor indoctrinated. He simply felt that his life was not more important than the freedom of his people.
When MKO Abiola rejected freedom by refusing to renounce his June 12, 1993 electoral mandate, he was not foolish or indoctrinated. He simply chose to stand for what he believed in. That he eventually died in detention was part of the sacrifice.
When Martin Luther King Jnr chose, at the risk of threats to his life, to challenge racial discrimination in the United States, he was neither foolish nor indoctrinated. He was eventually shot dead by one of those who hated his firm but peaceful message of racial equality. But even in death, his dream of ending official racial discrimination was actualised. If he and others had played it safe and “wise” by saving their necks, perhaps racial discrimination would still be in place in the US and many parts of the world, and Barack Obama could not have become the president of the USA.
Likewise, when Socrates chose to drink the cup of poison hemlock and die for his beliefs, he was neither foolish nor indoctrinated. In fact, he was known as the wisest man of his era. At his trial, he was given the option to choose his punishment and could have chosen exile. But he chose to die because he believed that one could die for his belief.
In August 2016, Boko Haram under its new leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, vowed not to attack mosques, Muslims or markets used by ordinary Muslims anymore, like Abubakar Shekau did, but to concentrate on attacking churches and Christians. The refusal to release Leah is in line with that.
Interestingly, Muslims quote the Quran to prove that there should be no compulsion in religion. Yet, the extremists who kill others because of their fate or force them to convert to Islam insist that they are following the dictates of the Quran.
It is an act of insensitivity and callousness for anyone to blame Leah Sharibu for choosing not to renounce her faith in exchange of her freedom. It is not everyone that has the capacity to stand for anything. That is understandable. But using one’s low standard to judge others is ironical.
What Leah needs is our support and prayers. She has displayed courage and bravery. She has shown that in spite of her age, she can stand for something.
The Federal Government should not let her remain with the terrorists. Some had argued that the Federal Government should not have accepted the released girls since Leah was not among them. But that would not have been a good option. There was nothing wrong with accepting the released girls. But that should not dampen the efforts at getting Leah released.
Even though Boko Haram released the Dapchi girls minus Leah, they used the freedom given to them to drive into town by the FG to score some points by preaching to the Dapchi locals and warning them never to send their children to schools anymore or they would not be merciful next time. The FG allowed them to come into Dapchi to interact with the Dapchi locals and shake hands with them. They are now seen as heroes by many people. That is a way of attracting more people as members.
In addition, they succeeded in instilling fear in the people as well as other parents and girls who heard their warning. Parents in the affected areas of the North-East would not want to send their children, especially girls, to school anymore. That will make Boko Haram achieve their aim of ensuring that children do not go to school.
One observation is that in recent times, no government official – from the President to the government-owned Nigerian Television Authority — calls Boko Haram “terrorists” anymore. They are now officially called “insurgents” or “militants”. It is obvious that it is an official directive.
The refusal of Boko Haram to release Leah Sharibu should be seen as a moral burden on both the political leaders and all Nigerians, especially those who negotiated the release of the girls. Her non-release is a breach of whatever agreement the negotiators had with the Boko Haram. The work of the negotiators is not ended until she is released.