By Adewale Kupoluyi
In a show of sympathy, President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have spoken on phone with Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, mother of Miss Sharibu Leah, the 15-year-old that was captured by Boko Haram insurgents, who invaded her school in a Gestapo manner some months ago. In February, members of the Islamic terrorist organisation had dressed in military fatigues and armed with sophisticated weapons, invaded Dapchi and went straight to the Government Girls Science Technical College, where they kidnapped 110 students of the school.
Since that sad encounter, it is now more than 200 days since the young girl was captured along with 109 other schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. But, unlike the other captives, she remains in the risky hands of the terrorists for sticking to her christian faith. During the call to Leah’s mother, President Buhari was said to have assured that government would do everything possible to bring her back home. Good talk. Mrs. Sharibu and her husband, Nathan, had called on the government to ensure the release of their daughter before the dateline given by the sect that had threatened to eliminate Leah, should the government failed to meet their demands.
As a worried mother, Mrs. Sharibu, at a press conference in Jos, the Plateau State capital, appealed to the President to do all within his power to stop the terrorists from carrying out their threat by ensuring the safe and prompt release of her daughter. The experiences of innocent victims in the hands of nefarious persons are indescribable. According to reports, some of the captive girls are said to have been sold-off, held as ‘wives’, sex slaves, servants or brainwashed suicide bombers and constituting another band of terrorism to the society. The courageous Leah, at a tender age of 15, had shown that the inalienable right to choose one’s path in life can be sustained at great danger. For her rare courage, she should be celebrated in these trying times. Every responsive nation faces the challenge of having to stand up for its citizens in one way or the other dire cases, such as negotiating or dealing with violent groups, just to secure the freedom of a citizen whose liberty had been curtailed.
Many things have happened to suggest some form of state laxity over Leah’s matter. For instance, it is worrisome that the management of information relating to the abducted girls is defective and not good enough, despite the high profile nature of their ordeal. Going by Mrs. Sharibu’s account, the family only heard information about their daughter from occasional media publications. In the first place, the abduction of Leah and her schoolmates resulted from the government’s inability to uphold its constitutional pledge to ensure security of life and property. Not only that, there is the suspicion and acrimony that there could be an element of religious persecution in her case, as the terrorists were said to have got the audacity by preaching and parading the girls round Dapchi before their escape, allegedly saying that they had apologised for regrettably taking the girls because they were Muslim girls. This fueled insinuations that the girl could have been left out of negotiations that led to the secure of those105 freed girls.
In a highly religiously sensitive country like Nigeria, there is the need for openness and better information management over sensitive matters so that there would not be any iota of doubt and ill-feeling can be linked to such ugly episodes. At another time, Leah’s mother had to debunk the rumour that her family took the Federal Government to court, saying they were not aware of such issue, insisting that she was not after money or engaged in any form of deal, saying that, her family was only interested in their daughter’s release. This position was being relayed to give the impression in some quarters that the situation could be complex. This ambiguity can simply be resolved by simply tabling the whole truth before the people by the parties.
According to Amnesty International, insufficient troops were deployed to Yobe and that an absence of patrols alongside the failure to respond to warnings and engage with Boko Haram at the initial stage might have precipitated the plight of the girls. In places where the lives of citizens are paramount, especially the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable, governments often go to any length to ensure the security of its citizens and when eventually threatened, they move in to bring them to safety at great cost, recalling similar cases that involved two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were arrested by the secretive North Korean regime for the offence of crossing the border into the country in 2009, but were set free after the personal intervention of US President Bill Clinton. Other examples abound that show the extent that countries can go to protecting the lives of their citizens.
It is imperative to keep reminding ourselves of the serious matter of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls and to always demand for their urgent release. Leah’s case remains a story of heroism in the face of horror that only few adults can ever withstand. The authorities should consider the release of Leah of paramount importance, given the sectarian colouration and interpretation being sown among the populace as a result of her continued incarceration. This should not be allowed to continue. Therefore, the authorities should deploy all the necessary resources, time, equipment, intelligence and tactics, to get Leah and others out of bondage into freedom immediately. Nigerians desperately need the confidence and assurance that government has the full capacity and capability to defend our territory and that, the life of every single citizen matters and counts.
For now, nothing would the important than to know of the safe return of Leah and the other girls. No amount of promises can make up for the eventual appearance of the poor girl and others taken by force. Civil rights groups and international organisations should continue to press for her release and putting an end to inhuman treatment of innocent citizens. While commending the nation’s security forces for their efforts at curbing terrorism, there is need for more transparency and better information management than ever before. The telephone call by the President is in order, but beyond this, Nigerians would be happier to see the incarcerated girls hale, hearty and in good conditions.