MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: persecution.
Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of a mass kidnapping in Nigeria that sparked international outrage.
On February 12th, 2018, Boko Haram fighters attacked a school in Dapchi, in northeast Nigeria. They took more than 100 girls hostage. A month later, only one remained in captivity: 15-year-old Leah Sharibu.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Most of the girls were Muslim. But Leah Sharibu is Christian. Her captors demanded she renounce her faith to gain her freedom. She refused. Three years later, she still hasn’t come home.
Joining us now to talk about Leah’s case is Onize Ohikere. She is WORLD’s Africa reporter, based in Abuja, Nigeria.
Good morning, Onize!
OHIKERE: Good morning, Mary!
REICHARD: About six months after Leah’s abduction, Boko Haram released an audio recording of her asking Nigeria’s president to negotiate for her release. Is that the last time her family heard from her? Have they had any confirmation that she’s still alive?
OHIKERE: Unfortunately there hasn’t been any recent proof of life, although there’ve been some few in the past. Back in August of 2018, just months after Leah was abducted, she appeared in the only video recording ever seen so far and pleaded for the government’s help on her case and for people to help her parents and younger brother. In January last year, a released hostage who was also held by the extremist group said she came across with Alice Ngaddah, a Christian aid worker who was taken about one month after Leah. Alice at the time said Leah was alive and doing well. But nothing recently.
REICHARD: In 2019, Leah’s mother came to Washington to plead with U.S. lawmakers to intervene in her daughter’s case. The family said then that they hadn’t heard from the Nigerian government in months. Have government officials spoken at all about the case since then?
OHIKERE: The government has insisted it would not relent in its effort to bring her back home. February last year, government reports said the insurgents rejected a ransom offer to free Leah, but that’s still unconfirmed. And I think that represents the difficulty the family is facing. Leah’s parents, as you said, reported they have been in the dark over her case.
Only last month, her father Nathan, told the BBC in an interview that he has left everything to God as rumors circulated that Leah had given birth to a child for one of the insurgents. He said he was unable to verify the report since government officials have still not spoken to the family.
REICHARD: Leah’s kidnapping was not the first involving a large number of schoolgirls. Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls from a school in Chibok four years earlier. That got a lot of attention all around the world. And many of those girls are still being held. Are these cases something that still gets attention in Nigeria? Is Leah’s plight well-known?
OHIKERE: There’s definitely some frustration/exhaustion over how long the case has lasted. But the recent capture of the Kankara school boys, who were abducted and released in December, drew a lot of questions and anger over the delay in Leah’s case and some of the remaining Chibok school girls. Leaders from the Christian Association of Nigeria had reminded the government that it bears the moral burden to release the girls.
There are also groups actively pushing awareness so people still remember Leah is not free- The LEAH Foundation started a 7-day prayer campaign – ends tomorrow with different intentions for her release and for other victims of persecution.
REICHARD: Violence against Christians has continued to rise in parts of Nigeria. Do these ongoing attacks get a lot of coverage there? Is it something that the Christian community talks about?
OHIKERE: Yeah these attacks have persisted for a long time the northeast. Now we hear of even more attacks against Christians and communities in the northeast, northwest,, central Nigeria. So there’s a growing sense of awareness of this worsening insecurity.
Just over Christmas break, multiple attacks on churches and communities in the northeast and in the central Plateau state.
Late in January, just last month, a Catholic priest was abducted and then killed in Minna, a city in central Nigeria. Churches share these stories and prayers for affected communities.
It has also triggered a sense of helplessness in people’s perception of the government, because they have more or less lost confidence in the government’s ability to ensure their safety. The [CAN] of Nigeria again this month asked authorities to start considering help from other countries like the US and Israel to fight insurgency and abductions.
REICHARD: Onize Ohikere is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She’s based in Abuja, Nigeria. You can read her reports on wng.org and hear her international news roundup on World Tour here every Wednesday. Thanks, Onize!
OHIKERE: Thanks, Mary.