Nigeria: Leah Sharibu

On May 14, she turned 18

“Leah, it’s been three years since your disappearance at the hands of Boko Haram elements in your school in Dapchi, Yobe State in northeastern Nigeria,” says Father Simon Okechukwu Ayogu, a Nigerian priest, to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). He speaks about Leah Sharibu, a young Christian girl kidnapped on February 19, 2018, by Boko Haram, one of the most fearsome terrorist groups of our time.

Leah turned 18 on May 14. This is the third time she is spending her birthday in captivity. Leah Sharibu and 110 classmates were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. However, about a month later, all the schoolgirls were released, apart from Leah, who was only 14 years old and refused to convert to Islam as the terrorists demanded. She has remained in captivity ever since.

Father Simon sent this message through ACN for her and her parents, but it is also meant to alert society to the plight of Christians in this African country: “Maybe it is good to imagine what it would be like to have a daughter, a sister, or a niece go missing for a day, a week, or a year. We are talking about three years. Leah, as you turn 18 on this day, we, just like your parents who are currently on tenterhooks, look forward to the moment when you will come back home.”

The hands of women widowed by Boko-Haram, March 2017

Kidnappings Meant to Intimidate

Father Simon Okechukwu Ayogu, aged 44, is currently a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Braga, in Portugal. Several times in cooperation with the pontifical charity ACN, he exposed the extremely difficult situation in which the Christian community in northern Nigeria finds itself, due to the actions of Boko Haram, which intends to establish a caliphate in that region of Africa. The kidnapping of people has been one of the intimidating marks of this terrorist group.

Mama Mary, a statue in the diocese of de Maiduguri, one of the most effected by the violence of Boko Haram.

The priest knows that Leah’s release is difficult. But it is not impossible. His message also seeks to be a sign of hope. “We, along with the whole world, are waiting for you. We are waiting for this miracle of seeing you alive one day.” Regarding the rumours indicating the possibility that Leah Sharibu was forced to marry a Boko Haram commander and that she could even have children with him, Father Simon says: “That matters little. What we want is to get you back.”

Latest News “Is Worrying”

Father Simon Ayogu also questions how the Nigerian authorities have been handling this case: “A rather inept government that has not been able to provide security for its citizens. A government that should use this situation as a wake-up call to review its suitability and its capability and take decisions to do its job well.

In February, when the third anniversary of Leah Sharibu’s abduction was marked, ACN contacted the Protestant leader Gideon Papa-Mallam. He says that the latest news about Leah Sharibu “is worrying,” but says he cannot reveal details and asks for “prayers and concerted efforts, both local and global, to secure her release as soon as possible.”

“The good news,” says the Protestant leader who is also a friend of the young Christian girl’s family, “is that Leah is still alive, and this fact is, by far, the most encouraging one…”

A group of people praying the Way of the Cross, 2021

The young woman’s location is uncertain. Papa-Mallam says that, according to the meager information available, “the terrorists do not keep their prisoners in one location [only], but move them around.” Therefore, “it’s hard to say exactly where Leah might be right now. Sometimes we hear that they are in the Lake Chad region, and sometimes in the Niger Republic or Chad… It is difficult to be precise.”

Leah Sharibu’s story is extraordinary and emblematic also for the fact that she was someone very young but who showed enormous courage in the eyes of her captors, emphasizes Papa-Mallam to ACN. Leah decided, “at the tender age of 14 to remain faithful to her Christian conviction. What a heroine of the Christian faith Leah is!”

May 14, Leah turned 18, exactly 1153 days since she was forcibly taken by the terrorists from her school in Dachi, northeast Nigeria.

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