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Leah Sharibu: Remembering a forerunner of resistance

By Wole Oyebade
29 December 2020   |   3:01 am
On Tuesday, January 1, 2019, Leah Sharibu, donned our cover as The Guardian’s 2018 Person of the Year. She was captioned ‘a goddess of resistance’ whose character of non-compromise and deviance resonated

On Tuesday, January 1, 2019, Leah Sharibu, donned our cover as The Guardian’s 2018 Person of the Year. She was captioned ‘a goddess of resistance’ whose character of non-compromise and deviance resonated as an exemplar in courage and resistance against terror and injustice. And typical of forerunners, her solitary narrow path in the uncharted territory of resistance has become a superhighway for millions of Nigerian youth to march chanting ‘enough-is-enough’.  
   
February 19, 2018, seems a long time ago. But for the Sharibu family and others whose 109 girls were abducted just before dinner on that somber night at the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, it was like yesterday.

Unforgettable is the memory even in the blinding flux of defining moments that beset 2020. And in a year when a country goes to war on all fronts, all at once and all over, it is almost natural to forget heroes and villains; dead, wounded, and survivors. The grim realities are in all facets of our lives. A beleaguered economy and naira on a free-fall. Massive job losses caused millions of well-off citizens to cross the poverty line overnight. Monumental corruption ran wild leaving widespread deprivation on its trail. A once-in-a-century plague crept in as a global pandemic but of local and personal devastations. Unattended, insecurity simply worsened with banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, herders, and farmers’ crisis all freely creating territories without government. Our floundering Commander-in-Chief literally went to bed without an apology. Without social support like we see in other countries, we all mask up the misery in solitude. Such was the year 2020, and one to forget Leah Sharibu in a hurry.
   
But not yet. Not for Citizen Sharibu. The story of her capture and her continued detention by the Boko Haram insurgents as a result of her defiance of compromise and refusal to renounce her faith is the stuff of legend. Leah, then 14, was abducted with 109 other girls of the Dapchi Technical College. Of the 110 girls abducted, five died in captivity while 104 were released on March 20, 2018. Leah Sharibu alone was not released because she refused to renounce her faith and convert to Islam as demanded by her captors. Still missing and in captivity till the present, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s acceptance of our charge to do everything to bring her home, she has since become the symbol of Nigeria’s refusal to succumb to agents of darkness, hell-bent on dividing the country and appropriating a section of the nation’s territory to themselves. By her principled stand, the battle for the soul of Nigeria became one between a young girl with a heart and a garrison of devils without souls.

   
Though Leah is still lost and unfavoured by the depressing year 2020, it is heartwarming that she has neither missed her way nor forgotten by her contemporaries. In the face of terror, she found a true guide in her heart to become the number one soldier on the frontline in defence of Nigeria’s integrity, values, and aspirations to unity, peace, and progress. Today, that has become a mass movement across the national landscape as demonstrated by the EndSARS protesters. In this army of legends, the nation is conscientise to return to the path of oneness and nationalism, but by first repelling the forces of oppression and terror. Never in the history of our collective existence or of the world, has there been such assembly of youth in their numbers, unmuted and concerted, in saying enough-is-enough to an oppressive organ of the State and metaphor for bad leadership. Sharibu had looked at her conscienceless and machine gun-wielding abductors in the eyes to say no to their godless faith and primordial radicalism. Similarly, thousands of youth dared oppressive police brutality, masking as the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), right on the streets to say no to organised oppression and repressive regimes. Indeed, it was one of our finest hours!  
   
As Leah exemplified, the Nigerian youth also turned down personal liberty and chose to place their lives on the line so that the whole of Nigeria may fulfill the promise of freedom and prosperity. In her captors’ den, Leah was a lone voice against terror. On the street, it was a whole nation voicing out disenchantment like true compatriots of a modern democratic State. Leah has today reproduced her kind in millions of EndSARS protesters – the heroes and heroines of our national cause. Together, they have demonstrated a true Nigerian spirit without the encumbrances of superstition, religion, ethnicity, partisan intolerance, and their weaponised fear against innocent people. The youth, once again, teach the country that one could suffer, die, and even face executive denial of daylight shootings and deaths, by having the courage of conviction. But that there is a fate much worse: non-committal to any ideals and keeping mute in the face of terror and tyranny.
   
Both incidents have elicited a pledge from the Buhari administration to bring Sharibu back home and address the five-for-five demands of the EndSARS protesters. None of these promises have been fully implemented, yet we hold Buhari to his pledges. Nigerians and the entirety of our heroic youth also remain upbeat and resilient in seeing these come to reality. But in the interim, we take solace in the fact that in Leah’s lone resistance in captivity and amplification of ‘EndSARS’ on the street, our country’s mortal hopelessness are electrified. Its glowing brightness now illuminates the dark recesses of our national lives like never before. In our youth is hope rekindled simpliciter. A hope that Leah Sharibu has not been erased from our consciousness and will return home soon. A hope that a great Nigeria will come to us all in this lifetime and our glorious morning shall dawn for the world to relish.

Dr. Wole Oyebade is a member of  The Guardian Editorial Board