Persecution group urges Nigeria to investigate reports of 16-y-o Leah Sharibu's death

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

A persecution watchdog group is calling on the Nigerian government to launch an investigation into reports that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu, the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapped by terrorists last year, has been killed.

Last week, reports surfaced that the Boko Haram splinter group ISWAP — a group that has ties to Islamic State terrorists — released a disturbing three-minute video of six Christian aid workers begging for their lives after being kidnapped by the group in a raid earlier this month. ISWAP is the Islamic extremist group that also kidnapped Sharibu along with more than 100 other schoolgirls in the town of Dapchi on Feb. 19, 2018.  

In the video, Grace Taku, an aid worker with Action Against Hunger, pleads for her life and references Sharibu and the kidnapped Christian aid worker and mother, Alice Ngaddah.

“I am begging on behalf of all of us,” Taku says in a transcript of the video circulating online. “I don’t want such to happen to us and it also happened again with Leah and Alice, because Nigeria could not do anything about them, they were not released, they were also killed.”

About five of the schoolgirls kidnapped along with Sharibu died and all others were released weeks later. The jihadis reportedly did not release Sharibu with her classmates because of her refusal to renounce her faith in Christ.

In a statement released on July 26, persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, which has worked closely with Sharibu’s family since her abduction, cautioned against buying into reports of her death. 

“We, along with other observers, find the claim highly incredulous,” an Open Doors spokesperson said. “Grace is clearly traumatized and under immense pressure as she tries to relay a lot of information.” 

Still, the group is urging Nigeria’s government to immediately launch an investigation into the report, adding that if it proves true, her death illustrates that Nigerian President Buhari and his government have “abandoned international standards of human rights by failing to provide even the most rudimentary protections to religious minorities, and to make honest efforts to hold violators to justice,” Open Doors President David Curry said.

Curry added that despite years of promises from Nigeria’s government, Boko Haram and Fulani militants continue to kill and massacre Christians without pushback. 

“Without the resources to protect, and the will of duly elected civil government to fight the terrorist agendas of these groups, northern Nigeria and other surrounding areas may be lost to these Islamic extremist groups.”

Nonetheless, the report is a wake-up call for government leaders to take immediate action, Curry added. 

“Let us all take this story as reason to double down on our efforts to intervene and decisively move to protect Leah and others like her who have fallen into the clutches of Boko Haram,” Curry said.

Open Doors also called for worldwide prayer for Sharibu’s family, adding: “Pray that if the report proves to be untrue that God will protect Leah. This report will undoubtedly bring more attention to her story and may, in fact, put her at further risk.”

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as "Western education is a sin," has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions over its 10-year insurgency. The extremists are known for mass abductions of schoolgirls and perpetrating violence against them in captivity. 

In April 2014, the group kidnapped about 276 schoolgirls from the mostly Christian town of Chibok, Nigeria. While over 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls have been released, about 112 others are still missing. 

Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to the Open Doors 2019 World Watch List.

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