JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – More than a month after an aid worker indicated in a video that kidnapped Christian teenager Leah Sharibu had been killed, a government official in Nigeria on Saturday (Aug. 31) said she was alive.
Citing intelligence from security agencies, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu released a statement reaffirming that the government is negotiating with terrorists for the release of Leah and other captives.
“Contrary to false reports, she [Leah] is alive, given assurances from our security agencies, and the government is committed to her safe return, as well as all other hostages to their families,” Shehu said. “Instead of giving up, the government is carrying forward processes that should hopefully yield her release by her captors.”
Lines of communications remain open with the kidnappers of Boko Haram, now called the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), to secure her release, he said.
“With the abduction of loved family and friends, the government understands how difficult these times are for them, but the government is pursuing many options to ensure the safe return of Leah Sharibu,” Shehu said. “The worrying cycle of speculations on whether Leah Sharibu, the kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirl, had been harmed by her abductors is what has made us to speak out.”
Though the government negotiated with Boko Haram for the release of the other girls, Shehu said that the administration does not encourage payment of ransom to secure the release of captives. For this reason, he said, the government was not rushed to yield to demands of the terrorist group.
“Kidnapping for ransom should never be encouraged,” he said. “This means not capitulating to the demands of terrorists; refrain from rewarding their heinous crimes with payment.”
Leah, 16, has been in Boko Haram captivity since Feb. 19, 2018, when she was abducted alongside more than 100 other students of the Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe state, in north-east Nigeria. While the other girls were released in March 21, 2018 after the kidnappers’ negotiations with the government, the terrorists retained Leah because she refused to renounce Christ.
In late July Boko Haram released a video in which a Christian aid worker kidnapped on July 18, Grace Taku, mentioned that Leah and three other Christian women in captivity had been killed.
“I beg that Nigeria government should please, I’m begging again, please do something to see that we’re released, because this had occurred before in this organization, Red Cross, where some ladies were caught – Hauwa and Zipporah, they asked to be released, but because Nigerian [government] did not do anything about it they were killed,” she said in the video. “I’m begging on behalf of all of us here that Nigeria should not allow such to happen to us. And it also happened again with Leah and Alice [Ngaddah], because Nigeria could not do anything about them they were not released, they were also killed.”
In the video, Taku pleads with Christian leaders, the Nigerian government and international agencies to intervene to secure their release.
The Rev. Stephen Baba Panya, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) said in a text message to Morning Star News that Christians in Nigeria, and especially in the ECWA to which Leah and her family belong, no longer trust that the government is genuinely working to free her and other captive Christians.
“We no longer rely on the Nigerian government’s assurances, which often amount to nothing,” Panya said. “Instead, as the Scriptures say, the just shall live by faith concerning Leah and many other national issues.”
Panya said he and other Christians must put their trust in God rather than the government.
“Our defense, confidence, is faith in God. We are praying and trusting God to bring back Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha, Sister Grace, and the remaining Chibok girls back to us safely in Jesus name,” he said. “If God decides to still use the Nigerian government or security agents for that, to God be the glory.”
ECWA General Secretary Yunusa Nmadu, Jr., said the church is happy over news that Leah is still alive. He urged the government to intensify efforts towards securing her release and that of other Christians.
“ECWA welcomes the statement from the federal government of Nigeria reassuring citizens that the world’s most popular prisoner of religious freedom, Leah Sharibu, is still alive,” Nmadu said in a text message to Morning Star News. “We urge the government to do more beyond assurances of her being alive and see to the speedy release of Leah Sharibu.”
The government needs to do more to reduce the insecurity in the country, he added.
“We are slowly sliding into a failed state due to the spate of insecurity, and the government seems to be helpless in the hands of bandits to the extent that some state governments are now holding talks with bandits that should be behind the bars,” he said.
Five Christians Killed
Much of the country’s descent into lawlessness has taken place in Kaduna state, in north-central Nigeria. On Thursday (Aug. 29) Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed five Christians and destroyed many homes in an attack on predominantly Christian Kiri, in Kaduna’s Kaura County, area residents told Morning Star News.
The attack came two years after a herdsmen assault in the same area that displaced many people who had returned to try to start their lives anew.
In last week’s attack, the herdsmen mounted a surprise invasion while most people were still working in their fields, area resident Jude Bako told Morning Star News by phone.
“Five of our people have been killed, and two others are still missing as we do not know where the herdsmen took them to,” Bako said. “The Fulani herdsmen attacked our village while we were still working on our farms. Our people who were in the village at the time were forced to flee for their lives, too.”
Another village resident said he narrowly escaped being killed.
“I escaped being killed by the herdsmen when they attacked us at about 4 p.m.,” Musa Gabriel told Morning Star News. “Four of our people were killed during the attack, and the fifth person died from gunshot wounds yesterday morning, Friday.”
Gabriel said that in the attack two years ago, the herdsmen burned down the worship buildings of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) and ECWA.
Bege Katuka, chairman of the Kaura Local Government Council, confirmed Thursday’s attack.
“Five persons were killed, while two others are still missing,” he said. “A number of houses were destroyed during the attack.”
Police also confirmed the attack.
Kaduna State Police Command spokesman Yakubu Sabo confirmed that four persons were killed in the attack on Thursday (Aug. 29), and that a fifth person died the next day from gunshot wounds.
“On Friday, Aug. 30 while our men were combing the area, they discovered four corpses, and the 35-year-old Daniel, who was injured during the attack, later died, making five people who were killed,” Sabo said.
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.