NIGERIA: Leah’s Alive

Jihadist captive Leah Sharibu is still alive – and has now given birth to her third child according to reports from Nigeria.

Ms Sharibu was one of 110 schoolgirls seized by Boko Haram/ISWAP from the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State on 19th February 2018 – but she was the only surviving pupil not to be returned after she refused to renounce her Christian Faith as the price of her freedom.

Reports regarding Ms Sharibu received by Catholic charity Aid to the Church (ACN) contain the testimony of five former Boko Haram/ISWAP captives who could not be named for security reasons.

They saw her shortly before their release and were able to positively identify her, having lived with Ms Sharibu and her fellow captive Alice Ngaddah between 29th December 2020 and February 2023.

Alice Ngaddah is a Christian nurse who was seized on 1st March 2018, two weeks after Leah was kidnapped, by Boko Haram/ISWAP. Ms Ngaddah was abducted during a raid on an IDP camp near Rann, Borno State where she was providing medical care.

ACN’s sources said when they stayed with Ms Sharibu she was pregnant with her third child and delivered the baby around April 2023. It was reported in January 2020 that Leah had converted to Islam, married a Boko Haram/ISWAP fighter, and given birth to a son.

The Rev Dr Gideon Para-Mallam – who is close to the kidnapped girl’s family – told ACN that at the end of 2018 Leah had been made a slave, suffering humiliating and demeaning treatment.

He said: “The pain of slavery was one of the key reasons that motivated Leah to outwardly convert to Islam in order to regain some freedom and human dignity.”

Boko Haram/ISWAP captives reduced to slavery have experienced ongoing sexual abuse, including rape.

The Rev Para-Mallam added: “Without doubt, to my mind, Leah remains a secret believer in a complicated context.”

The pastor went on to express disappointment that the international community had not done all it could to ensure the release of Leah Sharibu and other women being held by extremists.

He said: “Leading countries with the ear of Nigeria’s president may well have used their diplomatic back channels to talk to him, but in truth they should know – as we all know by now – that there seem to be no effectiveness, and we are discouraged.

“Leah’s parents have been discouraged too. They had been so hopeful that with the advocacy visits done by her mum and some of us to both the US and UK and other countries, Leah would have been freed by now – but sadly this isn’t the case.”

But the pastor, who heads the Para-Malam Peace Foundation which campaigns to “see women and girls accorded their God given dignity, equity and respect”, stressed that a lack of progress was not a reason to give up.

He said: “This is not time to give up praying and advocating for the release of Leah Sharibu and several other women and girls still Boko Haram captivity regardless of their religious orientation.

“They remain in grave danger of psychological and emotional trauma with unpleasant experiences. They have become sex objects with little or no choice. They all desire freedom.”