Thursday, 28th September 2023

Farewell Buhari, but where is Leah Sharibu?

By Martins Oloja
28 May 2023   |   3:56 am
As we bid President Muhammadu Buhari and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor, goodbye till we meet again, it is fitting to ask the outgoing President an update on one not-so-popular but so-significant promise he didn’t fulfil to Nigerians and humanity: release of Ms Leah Sharibu The Guardian, Nigeria had in 2019 tagged her as ‘A goddess of resistance.’

As we bid President Muhammadu Buhari and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor, goodbye till we meet again, it is fitting to ask the outgoing President an update on one not-so-popular but so-significant promise he didn’t fulfil to Nigerians and humanity: release of Ms Leah Sharibu The Guardian, Nigeria had in 2019 tagged her as ‘A goddess of resistance.’

While reflecting the other day on possibilities in a verdict of history, our president had looked into the seeds of time and wondered if history would be kind to him as he was persuaded that he had tried his best. He should leave that to the judgment of history. But there is a sense in which we can claim today that history will be harsh to our outgoing president if he leaves office the morning after May 29 without proclaiming to the nation that he has fulfilled his 2018 promise on Citizen Leah.

And here is the thing, I haven’t been led to do a contextual reporting and analysis of the inauguration lectures and related activities today as there is a time for everything. As I had noted here on January 29, this year shortly before the 5th anniversary of Leah’s cruel abduction that it would be tragic for Buhari to leave Leah in captivity of the wicked. I had noted then that the oracle had nudged me on to raise a flag of appeal to our leader Buhari the Mauritanian authorities just then honoured as a ‘Peace Ambassador, who would leave office at the end of May, 2023.

MY appeal then: “Mr. President, on February 19, it will be five years since that daughter of Zion, Citizen Leah Sharibu was abducted by the wicked ones. Expectedly, on that day (February 19, 2023), there will be another round of activities to mark another dark day in our history of building our strange federation of complex diversity. That will be another day of diverse messages of solidarity and even condemnation for the authorities and indeed your presidency. It is not expedient for me to wait till that day to send this last appeal so that you can get it before the usual noises of February 19.

“What is more urgent, I just read your opinion in the media, in which you stated: ‘I have done my best, I hope history will be kind to me…’ Our dear President, this is very remarkable except to deconstruct it from one of the classics of Williams Shakespeare who notes, ‘the eye sees not itself but by reflection by some other things…’ Yes, you can claim to us that you have done your best within the context of the promises you made to us in 2015 and where we are today as a nation. The verdict of history is inescapable in the end. But one thing you need to do to make history to be kind to you is to work for the release of that daughter of yours, Leah before May 29, 2023. That is barely four months away. Many people believe that her heartless captors will kill her when you leave office. And as our own iconic Chinua Achebe would have written to you, do not allow the wicked ones to claim that you bear a hand in her death despite the fact that that girl regards you as a father, and your administration didn’t reach out to pay the terrorists what they allegedly demanded for her release. Your Excellency, may the good Lord who enabled you to be in the highest office in the land grant you the grace to deepen your understanding of why Citizen Leah should not be left to die in captivity where aid workers and rescued ones have consistently claimed that she (Leah) has been forced to renounce her faith as a Christian and marry a Boko Haram Commander by whom she has had two unwanted children in the wilderness of life.”

It will be recalled that in a 30-second video clip in Hausa, after seven months in captivity in 2018, the 15-year-old then appealed to the president for help and help for her agonising family. In the video, she pleaded: ‘I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi. I am calling on the government, particularly, the President to pity me and get me out of this serious situation…I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, my father, my younger brother and relatives…Kindly help me out of my predicament…I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation. I am begging you to treat me with compassion. Thank you.’

Our outgoing President, recall the last testimony of Leah’s mother who merely responded to a media inquiry about the last time the family heard from you: “…When my daughter was taken away in February 2018, I did not hear from the government; I did not hear from anybody until seven months after. It was then that a video was released of her in a hijab. Boko Haram had released a video to say they had killed one health worker and they said the next person to be killed would be Leah. So, the Leah Foundation organised a world press conference in Jos. We asked the world for help because the next person Boko Haram said they would kill was my daughter. We said we had not heard from the government or anybody as a family and that, as far as we were concerned, we were calling on the international community to plead with the Nigerian government to take action. The night of the press conference, we got the attention of the government and the President called and spoke with me. That was the first time they (the presidency) got in touch with us.

“After speaking to me, he (President) promised that he would do everything possible to bring Leah back. Two weeks after, he sent three ministers led by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, to us. He came to Dapchi with two female ministers. When they came, they told me the President had sent them with a very large delegation and the media to say that very soon, Leah would be found. In fact, when they came that day, we thought Leah was coming back because we had just spoken with the President two weeks before. But they just came to register their presence with us as Leah’s parents. They took pictures and it was all over the media that the President sent ministers. After that time, we never heard anything from anybody in the government until October 2020 when the Minister of Women Affairs (Paulen Tallen) came to Yola (Adamawa State) to pay us a courtesy visit. She told us that she had brought a message from the President, that the President was still working towards fulfilling the promise that he would rescue Leah. Since then, there has been no contact or communication…”

Our out-going President, as I was saying, intelligence received on the status of Leah indicates that she has delivered a second child in captivity. There has been no rejoinder denying this unpleasant development even as diplomatic and intelligence sources have also confirmed. This is not a good news item of childbirth, in ay case.

‘The Guardian,’ Nigeria, had (on January 1, 2019), named Leah Sharibu as its 2018 ‘‘Person of the Year,’’ aptly describing her as “A goddess of resistance.” Remember this story too? To commemorate the March 21 third anniversary of the release of the Dapchi girls returned by their captors and “abandonment of Leah Sharibu,” a US group in its commemorative statement said, “until she is released, Leah remains a poster child and symbol of a failed state that can’t protect its children…” The group also lamented the “full-scale onslaught on education in Nigeria by Islamist extremists: Boko Haram wars against education; bandits mass kidnap of children in school; and religious violence against Christian mission school owners in Ilorin over hijab controversy.” These too are sad commentaries even as we are not talking about the more than 100 Chibok school children that the same Boko Haram insurgents have wasted since 2014. Our father and leader, I hope it is still clear that Leah’s father who hails from Adamawa State is a policeman, who was posted to Dapchi where his daughter was abducted. But they had transferred him to another beat at the time Leah was kidnapped. Does anyone feel how Leah’s family has been coping?

The words of the mother two years ago are still instructive: “…For us as a family, it is very painful; it is not something that is palatable. It is painful when a child is taken for three years and you don’t know anything regarding the child’s whereabouts. We are not happy as a family. I am not happy, her father is not happy and my son is not happy. We are in pain every day. She has just her younger brother, Donald. He is in school… My son has gone back to school, but every day I’m afraid; my mind is not at ease. But he has to continue with his education and people have supported us. The Leah Foundation has taken up his education. With that, he has to go to school, but every day, I am afraid. We are in deep pains. We are not happy. It is not something to be happy about…”

Mr. President, this is the summary of the reality we are checking: while 104 of Leah’s colleagues were released on March 21, 2018, five of the hapless girls died in captivity. Although, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed announced then that the 104 girls’ release was unconditional, the refusal of the terrorists group to release Leah since 2018 because she refused to convert to Islam questions this view, which buttresses some perception that the Federal Government’s negotiations through a back-channel led to the release of the girls.

So, it is indeed becoming inexcusable that the Federal Government has not been able to negotiate Leah’s release for five years. This may account for the resentments by various individuals and groups within and outside Nigeria as aptly captured in the earlier question posed by ‘The Guardian:’ “Mr. President, Where is Leah Sharibu?”

Mr. President, it can be repeated here that on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, you consoled and assured Leah’s parents that the Federal Government would do its utmost for the safety and security of Leah. You were then quoted as telling Mrs Sharibu: “I convey my emotion, the strong commitment of my administration and the solidarity of all Nigerians to you and your family as we will do our best to bring your daughter home in peace and safety.”

Despite your assurance to Rebecca Sharibu (mother of Leah), the Leah albatross still hangs on the neck of your administration Sir, as the girl is still held in captivity. Till the present, there has been no update on the plight of that unlucky girl and her whereabouts have remained unknown, five years on. Our dear President, as I have been saying here, this is an albatross that you should have removed from your neck before leaving for Daura tomorrow (May 29, 2023). As you fly over all the uncompleted road projects along Abuja-Katsina axis tomorrow, let your conscience be aroused by the Leah Sharibu conundrum as a strategic promise not kept, after all. Certainly, that failure has grave implications on the ticklish national question. Goodbye!