Friday marked three years since Leah Sharibu was brutally abducted by Boko Haram.
Leah was taken hostage in Dapchi, Yobe State along with 109 other girls, on 19 February 2018, aged fourteen at the time. Some were shockingly murdered, and the rest returned to their families. All, that is, except the Christian holdout Leah, whose mother achingly longs for the moment of their reunion. Nigerian Government negotiations with the terrorists strangely secured the freedom of all the girls except one, who had refused to convert to Islam.
Leah is just one of thousands of women and children who have been abducted, killed, injured and suffered from sexual attacks due to increasing violence across the country. Nigeria records more than 1000 kidnapping incidents per year, and there are undoubtedly many that go unreported, unacceptable for a Commonwealth member and Anglophone heavyweight. That many of these are defenceless and with children is a disgrace not only for Nigeria, but for every world leader who ignores the escalating crisis.
For girls her age around the world, this time in life means a stable relationship or engagement, perhaps university, or a part-time job with ample space to realise their interests, hobbies and deepen their friendships. Not so for the thousands of innocent young women held captive across Nigeria by brutal terrorist gangs, with no signs of their whereabouts for their families to digest, and no sign of their lengthy ordeals coming to an end. This week, reports have emerged of more people being kidnapped – including babies.
Three years is a long time in a young woman’s life. It is the time taken to complete an undergraduate degree, to get married and have her first two children, or to travel and develop extensive knowledge of the world. In Covid-19 terms, it is like serving 78 two-week quarantines, or nine four-month lockdowns, but in the hands of terrorists.
Leah is one of Nigeria’s ‘luckier’ victims, by virtue of the mere fact that she is still alive. Open Doors have confirmed that more Christians are killed in Nigeria for their faith than in any country on the planet.
Nigeria is now ninth on Open Doors’ World Watch List 2021, which measures Christian persecution around the globe. In recent years it has shot up, overtaking the infamous killing fields of Iraq (eleventh), Syria (twelfth), Saudi Arabia (fourteenth) and Egypt (sixteenth), where Christians are ritually slaughtered, and oppressive totalitarian regimes such as China (seventeenth), Turkey (twenty-fifth) and Qatar (twenty-ninth), where Christians are kept under strict surveillance, and even tortured by their own government.
The killing, torture and persecution has to stop, not only for Nigeria’s Christians and those under the yoke of Islamist sharia states, but for the whole world. When the cries of young women around the globe such as Leah’s reach our ears, the question we have to ask ourselves is: what is a life worth? What does a life mean to me?
Leah’s ongoing captivity is an indictment on our ‘enlightened’ Western civilisation. By ignoring her heartfelt plea, have we not condoned the very slavery we worked so hard to expel from society? It seems Boko Haram have been given a free pass to create post-colonial slavery and mayhem.
When Leah’s mother Rebecca visited London last February to plead for Boris Johnson’s help, I was honoured to share lunch with her and learn about the bravery of her daughter. Crying tears of hope, she reminisced about her daughter’s warm personality and joyful smile, despite all that may have happened to her. The same Christian faith her daughter had refused to give up, leading to her prolonged captivity, inspired Rebecca to keep fighting for her girl and all those held unjustly and in torturous conditions in the North East and Middle Belt of Nigeria.
As the head of PSJ UK, a charity rallying the attempt to bring back our girl, I urge you to #SpeakUpForLeah on social media and in your circles, breaking the silent slaughter keeping thousands of vulnerable women and girls in chains.
In the face of tyrannical persecution which grows daily across the globe, the fight for Leah is a fight for our free and peaceful civilization, nothing less.