On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, Miss Leah Sharibu, the 15-year-old girl who defied Boko Haram’s conversion strategy, marked 150th ugly days in the dangerous Lake Chad desert with the terrorists. Some of the abducted and later freed 105 students of Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, claimed that the Abu Mus’ab Albarnawi faction of Boko Haram kept Leah in their enclave because she rejected pressures to convert to Islam. Christians and activists have conducted a long chain of protests in Nigeria and across our borders, passionately appealing to the consciences of Boko Haram leaders, political will of the Federal Government and the counter-terrorism strategies of security agencies to work out Leah’s liberty. She’s yet to be released. Here are 10 things that have happened in the 150 days she has been in captivity:
1. What Buhari has said: The President spoke sparingly about Leah Sharibu. On March 21 when the 105 others were released, the president promised that Leah would not be abandoned. On April 10 when he hosted Justin Webly, archbishop of Canterbury, at the Abuja House in London on Wednesday, Buhari said his government had been working to secure the release of Sharibu. On May 29 Democracy Day, he didn’t find his voice to speak of the young girl. On July 6, speaking at the Celebration of Army Day in Monguno, Borno State, Buhari said ‘We’re still making efforts to rescue Leah Sharibu, Chibok girls’. Nigerians are still waiting.
2. The shocking fake news: On March 24, the nation was left with an empty excitement as a story credited to the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris said the federal government had brokered an agreement for the release of Leah Sharibu. Dapchi went wild in jubilation. Lol! It was fake news. Four months after, the girl has not been released.
3. Parents abandoned by government: Nathan and Rebecca Sharibu, the parents of Leah Sharibu, on May 15, the birthday of Leah Sharibu claimed that they had been abandoned by government. According to him, “To be honest, I have not received any support from the government but from the community and church members. I thank God because they have been encouraging me, lifting me through their prayers, visitation and words of advice.” It’s not clear if Yobe and Federal Governments have changed their attitude towards the family.
4. ISIS’s role in her detention: The Islamic States philosophy to the effect that non-Muslim girls abducted are automatically taken as slaves is responsible for Leah’s continued detention by the Albarnawi faction. In his long open letter to Abubakar Shekau on August 4, 2018, Mamman Nur’s faction that is holding Leah wrote the following lines: “They [ISIS] said that if they are unbelievers like the children of Chibok, it is permissible to capture them as slaves.” Leah is being held in obedience to this long-standing Jihadi doctrine.
5. Silence from Intelligence Community: The police and State Security Service (SSS) are expected to have worked their intelligence networks to capture the terrorists and set Leah free. However, this is not happening. If anything, it seems Boko Haram may release Leah only after the sect has received a handsome ransom for their criminal activities. They need to be disappointed.
6. The new ‘Caliphate’: From multiple reports, it is assumed that Leah Sharibu is held in the Lake Chad region where the Albarnawi faction runs a caliphate. There are reports that the sect has an active policing and tax collection system in the territory which is even a no-go area for security operatives of the countries in the region. From there they expand across the lawless desert and train fighters who snake into Nigeria to execute bloody assignments and crawl back to their secure desert.7. Mama Boko Haram shines: Self-styled human rights lawyer and mediator, Hajiya Aisha Wakil (known popularly as ‘Mama Boko Haram’), has been speaking on the fate of Leah Sharibu. She has promised to secure the young girl’s release, and only recently, announced that Leah had not renounced her Christian faith. But Mama Boko Haram didn’t add if Boko Haram is waiting for her to renounce her faith as a precondition for setting her free.
8. Onyeka Onwenu finds her voice in video: Veteran musician Onyeka Onwenu found her voice last Wednesday when Leah clocked 150 days in Boko Haram captivity as she released a video on the girl. She spoke to viewers thus: “I urge you to use every influence, every avenue, every platform to put pressure on Boko Haram to release Leah Sharibu and every other person; man, woman, child, who is held in captivity.” We pray her effort is not in vain.
9. Conspiracy Theory: A conspiracy theory not popular in terrorism studies has trailed the abduction of Dapchi girls – that the authorities stage-managed the abduction and release of the girls. Reno Omokri, a former aide of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, has written a book on Leah Sharibu which is weaved around this theory. It seems the authorities have ignored him.
10. Leah and 2019 Elections: Perhaps, government is waiting for the right time to strike the deal that would lead to Leah’s release; perhaps, in the midst of the campaign for Buhari’s re-election. A free Leah could boost his credential as a hardworking counter-terrorism president who saves a young girl from the lion’s den. Perhaps, that could translate to more votes from the Christian community which has been praying, fasting and clamouring for Leah Sharibu’s release.