A socio-pragmatic linguistic analysis of the transcript of the audio of Leah Sharibu proves five things. The transcript, widely circulated in the media, read thus:
“I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi. I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation,” she said.
“I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, my father, my younger brother and relatives. Kindly help me out of my predicament. 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. Thank you.”
(1) The 15-year-old has not converted to Islam:
Many Nigerians would have thought that the girl has converted to Islam, considering that she wore a hijab in the photograph that accompanied the audio tape. However, the opening clause “I am Leah Sharibu,” shows that she has not renounced Christianity. If she had, she would have been given a new name – Amina, Zainab, Jummai, Halima…..Among Jihadist groups, when anyone is converted he or she is given an Islamic name, a kind of re-christening. She may have been compelled to wear the hijab, the dress code in Boko Haram’s enclave. Secondly, if she had converted, she would have been set free by now. The rule in ISIS enclave and those of their associates is that no Muslim girl should be held in captivity. But Christian girls should be held as slaves – to be sold to the highest bidder. Leah would have been released by now if she had given up.
(2) The negotiation between government and ISWA on her release may be at an advanced stage:
The defining clause “the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi,” may be a deliberate attempt to assure and re-assure the team negotiating her release from captivity that she is alive and truly the Leah Sharibu whose captivity is a thorn in the flesh of government. The clause, an apparent explainer and self-identification, is a proof that those negotiating on behalf of the sect for the release of Leah are not scammers, and that government could, with assurances, release the ‘multi-million dollars’ on the bargaining table to the sect.
(3) Boko Haram is willing to ‘give her out’ to government:
When Leah says, “I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation,” she may actually be expressing the anxiety of Boko Haram to make money on her. She’s now a highly prized ‘item’ and with her emotional appeal, Boko Haram expects international organisations, human rights groups, her relatives, the Church, women rights groups… and Bring Back Our Girls campaigners to raise their voices for government to ‘pay the price’ and get Leah out of the lion’s den. Of course, her life and freedom is more than money, so government should set her free.
(4) Boko Haram monitors Leah Sharibu’s family:
Apparently, Boko Haram is keeping record of the situation in the family of their captive. They may have a hashtag that sends to their own platforms every detail in the family. That’s why Leah knows that her parents have been abandoned. She said, “I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, my father, my younger brother and relatives.” Since she was abducted, media reports have said the family has been abandoned by both the federal and Yobe State governments. Her captors have read those lines, hence they cleverly compelled her to use it as an argument in her appeal to be set free. The implication is that Boko Haram is not far away from our society; its members live among us and they know what we say and do – even about the sect.
(5) The message is to the president who holds the yam and knife
Though the audio was released on the social media, it is actually a message addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari. Leah said, “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.” The complex clause has one pronoun and two important nouns, “you,” (pronoun); “government,” and “president” (nouns), but they all refer to President Buhari. The ball is in the president’s court, and Leah Sharibu, her parents, Nigerians, civil society organisations, Christians, BBOG, international community, security agencies… are his spectators, watching how he will kick the ball. The goal post is empty, so he can score a cheap goal by doing what it takes to redeem the young girl from her “serious situation. Thank you.”