After release of 279 schoolgirls, Leah Sharibu’s parents renew pressure on Nigerian Pres. Buhari

A photo of Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu's family is held in Nigeria in a September 2018 video. | (Screenshot: YouTube/International Christian Concern)

On International Women’s Day, Leah Sharibu’s parents are renewing pressure on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to secure their daughter’s release from Islamic extremists after nearly 300 recently kidnapped schoolgirls were released last week. 

Rebecca and Nathan Sharibu released an open letter to Buhari published by Nigerian media Monday morning. Their daughter has been held captive for three years after being abducted by Boko Haram terrorists from her school in northeast Nigeria in 2018.

“Mr. President, you have promised me on the phone that my daughter will soon be [released] because negotiations are going on and not long Leah will be returned home but it has been over two years since you made that promise and Leah is now three years in captivity,” the Sharibus wrote.

The Christian Post obtained a copy of the open letter from Dede Laugesen of Save the Persecuted Christians. The letter was released by Gloria Puldu, executive director of the Leah Foundation.

The letter commended the president for the prompt rescue of the 344 Katsina state schoolboys abducted in December 2020 and the release of 279 kidnapped schoolgirls in Zamfara state last week.

A Nigerian pastor kidnapped by Boko Haram in December 2020 was also released last Wednesday after negotiations, just hours before he was to be executed.

The letter questioned why other captives were rescued in less than a week, while Leah has remained in captivity for over three years.

“Sir we plead with you to put yourself in our position and assume that Leah is your daughter how would you [feel] knowing that she is in captivity just because she was courageous to refuse to renounce her faith?” the letter asks. “Leah is denied her freedom for three years just for that reason. Now that you are able to find [solutions] to rescue those in captivity, we believe that you should be able to bring Leah and others in captivity home if you choose to do so.”

Feb. 19 marked three years since insurgents affiliated with Boko Haram splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province abducted Leah Sharibu and over 100 other classmates from a government boarding school in Dapchi. While five of the girls were killed, the rest of Sharibu’s classmates were released to their families after negotiations with the government.

Because the then-14-year-old Sharibu refused to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ and convert to Islam, insurgents pledged to enslave her for life. 

Leah’s parents, Christians in Nigeria and rights advocates worldwide have not stopped advocating for her release. Her mother came to Washington, D.C. in June 2019 to call on President Donald Trump to assist in the release of her daughter in captivity.

Rebecca Sharibu (L) and Gloria Puldu (R) speak at the Heritage Foundation's office in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2019. They called for the U.S. government to pressure the Nigerian government to more urgently secure the release of Sharibu's daughter, Leah, from Boko Haram. | The Christian Post

The Sharibus argued the whole world is waiting on Buhari to fulfill his promise to rescue Leah.

In a translated voice recording of Rebecca Sharibu obtained by CP, Sharibu said she is still “appealing to the government on my daughter's plight now that [279] Zamfara girls that were abducted have been released.”

“Negotiations were made, and all of [them] were released, my daughter is only one person, and now it is three years that she is still in captivity,” the mother said. 

“Why won't the government use the same means they used to secure the release of [the other captives] to secure the release of my daughter and the others like the remaining Chibok girls,” she continued, referencing schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram in 2014 from a school in Chibok.

“Please help us the same way you helped to secure the release of these girls so that our girls who are in captivity will regain their freedom.”

On the second anniversary of Sharibu’s abduction in Feb. 2020, the Muslim Nigerian president said in a statement that the government is going to “redouble our efforts for Leah’s return” but stressed, “we can never allow the terrorists to divide us — Christian against Muslim, Muslim against Christian.”

“We are all sons of Abraham,” Buhari said. “And all Nigerians have the same worth and rights before the law, and before God.”

Despite this claim, many international human rights advocates criticize the Nigerian government for neglecting to thwart violence against civilian communities committed by Islamic extremists in the northeast and radical herdsmen in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. 

Extremists reportedly demanded $275 million for Sharibu’s release in October 2018. Reports in January 2020 claimed Sharibu had given birth to the son of a Boko Haram commander.

Nigeria has experienced a wave of mass kidnappings for ransom in the past months, which has become a lucrative industry for militants.

Open Door’s World Watch List ranks Nigeria as the ninth-worst country for Christian persecution, stating that Islamic oppression toward believers is rampant and often runs unchecked.

Despite the overwhelming threat to Nigerian Christians, just under half of the country is Christian. According to Open Doors, over 95 million believers are in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

Nigeria was the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department’s list of "countries of particular concern" for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the country third most affected by terrorism in the world. More Christians were killed for their faith in Nigeria than any other country in 2020, Open Doors reports.   

The Leah Foundation continues to advocate for Leah's freedom, as well as empower Nigerian women.

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