By Dele Agekameh
On May 14, 2018, Leah Sharibu, the remaining captive from the Dapchi abductions by Boko Haram in Yobe State, turned 15 years old. There is no telling what would have been on the mind of the poor girl on that day. That was 84 gruesome days after she was snatched from her school, alongside many other girls and almost two months after the rest of the girls were released. Apparently, Leah was left behind because she made a decision to stand by her Christian faith.
To be held in captivity at such a young age because, against all the odds, she defied her captors in the way she has done is a feat truly worthy of admiration. Not only the admiration of her Christian family, or their local church in Yobe alone. Leah deserves the admiration of the world, a world populated by adults who could not have dared what she did. What she deserves even more is the very best effort of a government that let her down so much that she had to look terrorists in the eye at the age of 14 and say no.
Despite the careless remarks of some Christian leaders in the wake of Leah’s continued captivity, we must understand that Boko Haram’s actions are an attack on our collective resolve as a nation, be you Muslim, Christian or a practitioner of other religions. The future of the country is on trial, with armed extremists taking it upon themselves to perpetuate the under-education of parts of our country. The inalienable rights of every person, that have come to be the bastion of modern democracies, is being bastardised on the altar of ignorance and self-serving extremist agenda.
Leah deserves to be celebrated, not because her experience is an isolated incident in today’s world, but because it signifies a triumph of good, once again, over the dominating and incapacitating influence of evil and evil doers.
Not long ago, the world reeled at the news of the shooting, at point blank range, of a young girl of about Leah’s age in Pakistan, in similar circumstances. That girl had defiantly continued to attend school and be outspoken, despite the intimidation of the Taliban in Pakistan. She survived the gunshot wound and was soon after known across the world as the girl who dared to get an education and speak out against oppression. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, now a student at the prestigious Oxford University in England. We know her name today because the world did not ignore her trials.
For Leah, history has opened a fresh page in Nigeria. What will be written on that page now depends on the diligence of the federal government, the unity of the people of Yobe State, of all faiths and indeed all Nigerians. The international community also has a role to play by rallying behind Leah’s cause like it has done in many cases like this before. Not only Nigerians, but the whole of humanity needs to come through for Leah with a deliberate consciousness of her plight and a common resolve that the history of her defiance will be written in triumph for her too. She is already a champion of education for young girls across the world, a champion of her Christian faith and of good against evil. Of course, she now needs champions of her deliverance from captivity.
The terrorists have showed their hand by keeping Leah back despite their agreements with the government. They have revealed that their delusion of a divine purpose is incurable and that they are a greater threat to the essence of our Nigerian existence than we realise. To allow the narrow mindset of the terrorists to divide us will be a victory for the terrorists too. There is no evidence that the self-aware Leah or any of her Muslim friends, ever felt different from each other. It took the hand of murderous terrorists to emphasise their differences, and we would only be doing the terrorists a service by continuing to emphasise these differences.
The Islamic State in Syria has made a lot of money from kidnapping Christians across Syria. Therefore, we know that people of this mindset are in the business of taking money for Christian lives too. That is why none of the government’s excuses for the exclusion of Leah Sharibu is tenable. The government dropped the ball, badly. We have been told that the renewed negotiations for Leah’s return have been “complicated”, but that is not good enough. It almost seems like there is not enough commitment by the government to bring Leah home. Having botched it the first time, it is presumable that the terrorists would want to capitalise on the outrage arising from keeping back their only Christian captive.
The country is in a very bad security state right now, with the army and other security agencies unable to contain the pockets of violence springing up everywhere in the land. Just as the citizenry are dealing with the failings in security, reports on Sunday reveal cracks within the top hierarchy of the Nigeria Police Force. This comes in the middle of a showdown between Ibrahim Idris, the inspector general of Police and members of the Senate. If Leah’s case is dismissed as insignificant by the government, it is obvious that the security situation may become uncontrollable if anything untoward were to happen to poor Leah in the den of her captors.
Judging by the rhetoric of Christian leaders, full blown religious tension will grip the nation if Leah is not freed and unharmed in the near future. For a government with poor management of security threats so far, there is no evidence that it will be able to contain the backlash in the event that Leah comes to harm in the hands of her captors. Religious tension has always bubbled under the surface in many parts of the country, and it is cases like this that ignite clashing in far flung places that seem unconnected to the matter at hand. If the not-so-subtle words of President Donald Trump of America during President Buhari’s recent visit to him are anything to go by, the backlash may well spread across West Africa and spring up proxy wars all over the world.
The importance of Leah cannot be overemphasised. Last week Monday may not have been the birthday she dreamt of having this year, but the occasion can be used for renewed pressure on the government and appeal to the international community to aid her parents, her community and Nigerians in ensuring her safe release. It is not enough for the government to claim that it is doing all it can. Leah has spent more time in captivity after the rest of the girls were released than they all spent together before their release.
Leah cannot be allowed to become another casualty of the bad security governance that persists in this country while the service chiefs continue to under-perform. The government’s resolve to tackle insecurity, including Leah’s captivity, will remain doubtful as long as the security apparatus is kept intact, in form and in leadership. It is sad to see the general security incompetence reflecting on the handling of Leah’s release from captivity.
Already, the terrorists seem to have scored a victory in Leah’s home community, where none of the freed girls have returned to school based on warning by the extremists. Perhaps, the release of Leah after her show of defiance can help shatter that semblance of victory within her own community. The government has let fear creep into Dapchi, to deny young girls of their much needed education. The same fear also had their parents cheering their captors when the other girls were returned. Leah faced down her fear and defied these terrorists, who rely so much on fear, and we cannot now let her down by letting fear muzzle us in the comfort of our homes. Leah must be freed!