YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirl who refuses to renounce her faith should “inspire every Christian,” according to a leading human rights group.
Leah Sharibu was the only Christian among 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) on February 19, 2018 in Dapchi located in Nigeria’s Yobe state. The rest of the girls – all Muslims – have been released. Leah is still being held, since she refused to renounce her faith.
She turned 17 last month, having spent over two years in captivity.
“What her schoolmates that returned told me was that my daughter was told she must recite the Kalima Shahada [the Islamic profession of faith]. They said my daughter would only be brought back home the day she recites Kalima Shahada,” Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu told the Premium Times.
Six months after her capture, ISWAP declared that Leah and another captive, Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah, would be enslaved for life. Ngaddah was kidnapped on March 1, 2018.
Kiri Kankhwende from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has praised Leah’s resilience and faith.
“This courageous girl’s example should challenge us all, as she has refused to renounce her faith, even in the face of unimaginable intimidation and violations,” she told Crux.
“The resilience she has displayed at such a young age is testament to her deep and unwavering faith. A biblical parallel would be the story of Job. Despite immense suffering and loss, he remained stubbornly faithful and has served as an inspiration to everyone enduring suffering of their own,” Kankhwende said.
“Leah’s faith and courage should inspire every Christian, whatever their circumstances. It is very difficult to predict how any of us might react in a similar situation to hers, and while we would hope to react as she did, we do not judge others who react differently. Jesus extended grace to Peter who denied Him three times, and we believe that our role is not to judge but to pray for, to support and to advocate for justice for those facing intimidation, harassment, violence or persecution on account of their religious belief,” she said.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has organized protests and prayer vigils for Leah, often outside the Nigerian embassy in London.
“We believe that God will hear our calls and will intervene to save Leah from this dire situation. Although she is being held by one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world, we know that the battle to free her is spiritual as well as physical,” Kankhwende told Crux.
CSW has been raising awareness of Leah’s situation through the #FreeLeah social media campaign.
As well as raising public awareness of this situation, and lobbying for government intervention, Kankhwende says praying is the most important thing people can do collectively to make a difference.
She said the NGO has consistently pressed for her release by lobbying UK parliamentarians, members of the U.S. Congress, the European Union, the UN Human Rights Council and Nigerian officials.
“Two parliamentary Early Day Motions have been initiated on Leah, one of which referenced our 200-hour protest outside the Embassy in London. There have also been over 11 written parliamentary questions regarding Leah, and we have briefed both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the State Department on her case. We also raise her case in oral and written statements to the UN Human Rights Council and included it in our written submission for Nigeria’s Universal Periodic Review,” Kankhwende said.
On June 15, the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief launched a new report called “Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?” and dedicated it to Leah.
The one government Kankhwende is most concerned about is Nigeria itself.
She told Crux it was “indeed perplexing that the Nigerian government negotiated the release of all Dapchi schoolgirls, except for Leah.”
She said information had also emerged that the authorities had been warned of suspicious terrorists movements close to the town, “yet troops stationed 60 kilometers away failed to come to the aid of the townsfolk despite receiving distress calls for four hours prior to the abductions.”
Meanwhile, the Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, said Leah and other Christians facing persecution in Nigeria “are metaphors for the suffering Church in Africa.”
“Their testimony and witness represent the spiritual oxygen that our lungs so badly need today…they will inspire a new generation of defenders of the Gospel in a sick and troubled continent,” he told Crux.