With today marking the third anniversary of the kidnapping of Leah Sharibu, a senior Christian leader in Nigeria has appealed to people around the world to call on their governments to demand action to free her.
Rev Gideon Para-Mallam pointed out that the teenage Christian girl – who was captured by Boko Haram/ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) on 19th February 2018 – has now been held for 1,096 days.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he said: “Why is the world standing by and watching as she remains in unjust captivity?”
Noting that Leah has now spent three birthdays held by the militants, the Rev Para-Mallam called on governments to apply pressure on Nigeria to step up efforts to release all those held by Boko Haram/ISWAP.
The clergyman said: “Challenge your government to use their power and diplomatic channels to raise Leah’s issue with our president and the relevant structures of power in Nigeria to act in order to free Leah and others in captivity.”
Rev Para-Mallam, a Protestant pastor and president of the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, who is in contact with Leah’s family, described how her parents were holding up.
He said: “They remain unbowed, and full of faith that one day they will see Leah. Their spirits have not been broken.” But he added: “They are full of pain.”
Responding to reports that Leah, who was married off to a Boko Haram commander, had converted to Islam, he said: “Yes, this is true, the rumour had been on for some time and an eyewitness account confirmed this rumour to me privately.
“But I asked a simple question: would this be a voluntary or forced conversion? Would forced conversion to Islam in captivity be considered a willing conversion?
“Do not forget that Leah was held back in the first place because she decided at the young age of 14 to remain true to her Christian conviction…
“Let’s pray for her to remain steadfast in her faith in Christ even at this dark hour when the trial of her faith is being stretched to limits that even adults won’t easily face.”
He said the matter “calls for prayers and intentional concerted efforts both local and global to secure her release at the earliest time possible.”
Rev Para-Mallam also pointed out that a number of other girls remained in captivity, including some of the Chibok girls – and that another 27 students were kidnapped in Kagara, Niger State on Wednesday (17th February 2021).
He asked for renewed prayers for all those being held by the various factions of Boko Haram including Alice Ngaddah, Grace Tuka, Lillian Gyang and Pastor Lawrence Zongo.
Leah was seized along with more than 100 other students on 19th February 2018, when Boko Hasram/ISWAP attacked the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State.
A month later, most students were returned, following negotiations between the extremists and the government, but Leah was held back after refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
In September 2018, a video of Leah was released in which she pleaded to be set free. Rev Para-Mallam said: “That was the last we have ever heard directly from Leah.”