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Leah Sharibu as metaphor for opposition

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Some of the released Dapchi schoolgirls are pictured in Jumbam village, Yobe State, Nigeria March 21, 2018. REUTERS/REUTERS/Ola Lanre

At the best of times, President Muhammadu Buhari is not the darling of majority of Nigerian Christians, or more appropriately Christian politicians. For them, he is not the messiah his cult followership, especially in the North, has cut him out to be.

Those of them with thick political blinkers have always regarded him as a fundamentalist, a religious bigot, without bothering to produce even if a scintilla of proof to back their claim.

Though it had seemed pointless to labour to disprove this politically toxic notion, the man himself had found it expedient to prove he is not what they have made him out to be. His numerous Christian colleagues and friends in the military and many of them in his military government of 1984 to 1985, he was wont to point out, were the incontestable proof, if any was needed, of how accommodating he had been with people of different faiths.

For the uninitiated, however, it is on the surface difficult to comprehend how Buhari is a fundamental Islamic champion – is it for praying five times daily or for fasting, like others, in the month of Ramadan? Does he go for Umrah every Friday instead of staying in his office to work? Or has he decreed Friday free working days for Muslims?

Come to think of it, the man does not even grow beard. He may have been quietly donating to some Islamic causes, but nobody has accused him of being a loud-mouthed exhibitionist preacher of the Islamic gospel. The man who frowned at, some said he actually stopped the government from sponsoring pilgrims to the Islamic Holy Land of Makkah and Madina, is not, by any stretch of logic, the best example of a fundamentalist crusader for Islam. Not, in my view, a religious paragon or bigot.

But as he prepares to get back to the warm embrace of voters for his second term bid, this same song of being a jihadist, working hard to Islamise the country, will move to a much higher decibel. If the opponents did not find anything substantial in the past to hang on their noxious notion of Buhari, there is one, now, no matter how improbable.

The new symbol of opposition, fortuitously provided by the unrelenting Boko Haram insurgents, is in the person of Leah Sharibu, the Dapchi Christian girl still in their captivity. You will recall that Sharibu was among the 110 female students abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents on February 19 this year from their school in Dapchi. After negotiation with the Buhari Federal Government, all the girls but six were returned safely to their parents.

Five of them, we were told, had died in their custody but the sixth, Leah Sharibu, was held back because, according to the narrative, she was asked to renounce her Christian faith, as a condition for her release, but she pointedly and courageously refused. And her captors have also stubbornly stuck to their gun by refusing to let her go – this plump prize for ransom.

There are various dimensions to this Leah Sharibu conundrum, all of them worrisome – the religious dimension, the human rights dimension and, especially for President Buhari, the political dimension, not to even mention the criminal dimension.

It is important to say it again, even if for the umpteenth time, that there is no compulsion in religion, especially in Islam. And, for the avoidance of doubt, Islam also forbids forced marriage. Forget about some strange cultural admixture that has been used, in some instances, to dilute religion. In war situation, there is a clear directive not to harm women and children; not to desecrate places of worship – Churches and Mosques or the synagogue. This came even before the United Nations Charter.

Also for the umpteenth time, it is necessary to restate here that what Boko Haram is doing is completely out of the fold of Islam and probably because Nigeria’s eminent Islamic leaders demurred for long before they started to condemn their activities, the impression gained ground that the Muslim community in general endorsed what is clearly a terrorist action.

If the abduction of the Dapchi girls, as well as the abduction of the Chibok girls four years earlier, was to convert them to Islam, why, if one may ask, did they take away the Dapchi girls who, except Leah, were all Muslims? Was it to preach to the converted or to trade them for ransom? And the equally pertinent question that begs for an answer is: what version of the Holy Qur’an are these Boko Haram people reading?

The only one we know, and which the Christians are blissfully unaware of, speaks glowingly of Jesus Christ and the virgin Mary whom God had exalted above all women in the world; this woman of virtue who had been enjoined to bow down along with those who bowed down in prayer and who had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus through a miraculous birth. The Holy Mary, it bears repetition, was chosen to be mother of a holy child (Jesus) who “ shall be highly honoured in this world and the next and one of those near stationed with God,” the one who, with the permission of God, would speak from the cradle, give life to the dead and cure the blind to prove to the doubting Thomases that he was sent by God, the Almighty.

But see what they have done, these Boko Haramists. They have turned the innocent Leah into a martyr of sorts – she who is made to suffer for her faith. Today, Leah has become the heroine of Senator Murray Bruce by his public proclamation. There must be many others like the senator falling over themselves to deify her. Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, in a tweet, had asked God to visit the camp of the Boko Haram and set Sharibu free.

He prayed: “Lord, we ask that you visit the camp of the captors and in a way that You alone can, see to the safe release and return of the missing Leah Sharibu.” And in this Holy Month of Ramadan, I, yours faithfully, join others to say, and loudly too, ameen. But we should not forget the Chibok girls who have undeservedly spent more than four years in captivity.

It is a great pity therefore to learn that the negotiations between the government and the captors to free these girls have suffered some set back – a euphemism for lack of progress and a shorthand for no hope in sight. But the president who broke the depressing news in the Villa through Shehu Garba, a presidential spokesman, also assured the parents that government had not forgotten the girls. Nor has it abandoned them.

This is therefore the time to keep the communication line open between the girls’ parents and the Villa. The “bring back our girls” activists also deserve commendation from the government and not condemnation, not police baton or tear gas. Definitely, this is the time for political opportunists to cash in on the situation. It is this political dimension that the president must worry about.

If the speeches of the angry parents of the Chibok girls are anything to go by, they should be taken as an indication of the pain and the anguish that they have been going through. Muktar Nkeki, for example, is the chairman of the Abuja Chibok community. On the fourth anniversary of the capture of the Chibok girls, he spoke at a prayer session in Abuja and declared without mincing words that the president had failed them in view of the promises he made when he took the oath of office in 2015.

The government must find a way to get back to the negotiation table whatever it costs. Those who are praying for the release of the girls today are also urging their parents and other concerned citizens to join in the prayer with a caveat that they must not forget their voters’ cards. Another way of saying to them: vote out those who don’t care about you.


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