There was an outpouring of emotions yesterday in Jos, the Plateau State capital, when a coalition of Christian groups gathered at the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) to celebrate the 16th birthday of Leah Sharibu, a schoolgirl being held captive by Boko Haram insurgents since February 2015.
The birthday ceremony at the headquarters ECWA in Jos was characterised by prayers for Leah, her parents and churches across the country as well as special prayers for God’s intervention in Nigeria’s security situation.
The Christian groups, which included Leah Sharibu Foundation, Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment (CWEENS), Catalyst for Peace and Justice (CPJ) and Param-Mallam Foundation, took to the streets of Jos to protest the continued incarceration of the secondary schoolgirl and the inability of the Federal Government to secure her release.
The groups took their protest to the Plateau State House of Assembly where they submitted a letter of protest to Speaker Joshua Madaki.
Giving a background to the programme, Paul Abache of Leah Sharibu Foundation said: “On February 19, 2015, some gunmen stormed Dapchi village and took away some girls. Some were released but Leah was not, just for her refusal to renounce her religion.
“Today marks exactly 16 years of Leah Sharibu’s birthday and this is the second time we are celebrating it while she is in the hands of Boko Haram.
“As a Christian, Leah has become a role model, a heroine. We need to celebrate her, whether she is alive or not. But we know she is alive because her God in heaven has neither forsaken her nor forgotten her.
“We call on the world to join us in celebrating Leah Sharibu for her bravery, her unshakable faith in Jesus Christ and for standing as a symbol of Christianity.”
In a word of exaltation, a cleric, Mr. Dayo Tella said: “Leah is being celebrated worldwide today because at her age, she was able to hold on to her faith, even at the point of death. We give it to her mother and her church for raising her the way she is. The girl must have been filled with Holy Spirit for standing against evil doers and her refusal to give up her faith, even at the point of death.
“Only God knows why He allows Leah to remain in captivity, it’s not that it is beyond God to secure her release.”
The cleric urged the Federal Government to do justice for the weak against the strong.
He also told Nigerians to join hands with the government to fight the current insecurity across the country.
Another church leader, Dr Dan Sumaila said: “It’s not a time to mourn. Nigeria is at a crossroads where no one is secured, including security agencies, traditional rulers, politicians. Let all Christians emulate Leah, not to deny the God that you serve. Let all parents teach their children the way of Leah. Let us remain as Christians in words and in actions.”
Also, activists, comprising several civil society organisations (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the country yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to secure the release of Leah Sharibu from her captors.
They urged the President to present her release as a democracy gift to Nigerians before he begins his second term in office. The CSOs spoke at a rally at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, as part of activities to mark Leah’s 16th and second birthday in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents.
They urged the Federal Government to ensure the safe and speedy return of Miss Sharibu to her family and the Christian community.
The Founder, Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, Rev. Godwin Para-Mallam, appealed to the President to prioritise security, unemployment, poverty and the revitalisation of the economy in his second term.
He said: “Unless the court says something otherwise, on May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari is going to be sworn in for his second term. Nigerians have gone through a lot; they have endured a lot in the area of security.
“The number one priority as you move into your second term is to address the security challenges, particularly in the North, the Middle Belt, the Northeast and the Northwest. But, of course, there are pockets of security challenges in other parts of the country.
“People have cried, Mr President. Give us a gift, set Leah Sharibu free and others who are in captivity.”
Also, the Founder, Mercy Ade-Davies Foundation, Prof. Funmi Adesanya-Davies said: “Our hearts are broken, we are depressed. We are sad, we are unhappy. The release of Leah Sharibu is a sign to this nation and the entire globe that the Christian community is acceptable. But not releasing her is a sign of a very bad omen and this bad omen must stop.”
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) said Nigeria failed to render public account of the financial commitments it has made in the rescue of the hundreds of girls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists.
Wondering why the government did not copy the examples of Great Britain, which periodically publishes public expenses on such cases, including the subsisting case of the then little Madeleine Mccann who disappeared in Portugal about ww years ago, HURIWA regretted that the Nigerian government did not appear to be making any effort to free Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls.