Leah Sharibu's mother
Wild jubilation seized Dapchi on March 21 as Boko Haram insurgents returned 105 of the 110 secondary school girls abducted from the town. The parents of the abducted schoolgirls trooped to the scene in bated anxiety to retrieve their children.
Some of them, however, returned home disappointed because their children were not among those returned by the insurgents. Five of them were said to have died in the stampede that attended their abduction, leaving their parents in deep sorrow.
The scene was also an anti-climax for the parents of one of the schoolgirls named Leah Sharibu, who was said to have been held back by the insurgents because she refused to denounce her Christian faith and profess Islam. Like other parents, Leah’s mother had rushed to the scene to welcome her, only to be told by one of the returnees that the hapless girl was still in the custody of the insurgents.
But Leah’s absence is not only felt by her parents. Her pastor says she has been sorely missed in her ECWA Church where she had been a very active member, particularly in the choir. Pastor Daniel Auta, who said that hope of Leah’s release was hinged on prayers by the good people in the town, added that the church, made up of about 65 worshippers, was missing Leah’s commitment to the choir, bible studies and youth programmes.
Auta said: “Leah was an active member of the choir in the church and an active member of all youth programmes in the church. She is very committed to her faith and church activities. She does not joke with her midweek prayers and bible studies.
“She is a great source of encouragement and inspiration to the choir and the youth in the church. Her absence has even weakened the entire choir as well as affected the morale of the church in Dapchi. But we remain strong, praying for her safe return from the hands of the insurgents.
“We have been fasting and praying since the day she was abducted, and we will not stop until she returns. As the scriptures say, He that is in Leah is greater than he that is in the world.”
Auta appealed to the insurgents to embrace the teachings of God and set Leah free, saying that there is no compulsion in religion and no one should be forced to renounce his or her religion in favour of another.
“If it is for this reason that the insurgents are holding her, they should release her unconditionally without further delay,” he said.
Auta expressed disappointment at the pace government is pursuing Leah’s release, saying: “I am personally not satisfied with the efforts so far put in place for the release of our daughter the same way the other girls were released to their parents.
“They should hasten up. The delay is becoming too long. Something needs to be done fast to secure this girl’s freedom and bring her life back to normal.”
Leah’s mother, Mrs Rabecca Sharibu, who looked visibly distraught, said: “Leah is everything to me. I am so proud the way I raised her. She is committed to whatever she wants to do.
“She told me she wanted to go to school and become a nurse in order to save lives. I am calling on the Federal Government and Boko Haram not to allow the dream of my daughter to be cut short. I appeal to those responsible to work out her freedom and bring her back to me.”
Reliving amid tears how she has been coping with her daughter’s absence since her schoolmates were released, Mrs Sharibu said: “The release of the schoolgirls without my daughter is more painful to me than the first abduction.
"I thank God for the lives of her friends that have been released. But we cannot stop grieving until our daughter returns, because if we do, we have given up on her.
“I miss Leah so much. Like I told you before, she is everything to me. Whenever this girl is on vacation, I am also on holiday, because she takes over the house and does everything. The only thing I do when Leah is around is to eat and bathe myself. But every other thing, she takes control.”
Mrs. Sharibu also informed that Leah’s only brother has been removed from his boarding school in Nguru for fear of losing another child to Boko Haram. Speaking amid sobs, she said: “Right now, I have decided to withdraw her brother from a boarding school in Nguru to avoid a similar experience, because I no longer have confidence in the security of this country.”
Recalling their last moments together, which coincided with the school’s visiting day the day before Leah was abducted, Mrs Sharibu said: “I took to her some food and chin-chin (snacks). She fetched a little and asked me to keep the rest at home until the next visiting day. That was the last time we met.”
One other moment that has also struck Mrs Sharibu hard was the last rumour that Boko Haram was bringing Leah back to Dapchi. According to her, she hasn’t found sleep since that news turned out to be false.
“They forced people to go into their homes because they were bringing Leah back. We were so happy and very expectant, awaiting the return of Leah. I was prepared to receive her, but it turned out to be lies. I became so unhappy, and since then I cannot sleep,” she lamented.
Father’s Leah, Mr Sharibu Nathaniel, said the good spirit of Leah will prevail, just as he remains optimistic that his daughter will be released.
He said: “I am sure my daughter will overcome her trials. I believe that God is preparing her for some exploit and she will sure manifest. She is a child of God and the God she serves will never let her down the same way Shedrack, Meshach and Abdenego were saved from fire and Daniel from the lion’s den, so will the story of my daughter be.”
He, however, called on the Federal Government to play its part in securing the freedom of his daughter from insurgents.
“Leah is a good child that any parent would be proud of,” he added.
Mr. Sharibu remained grateful to Dapchi community for standing by him and his family at this trying time. “I am grateful to Dapchi people who have continued to stand with me on this.
“They have been treating me like their own. I came to this town single and got married here. I appreciate their effort and ask for more support to ensure that my daughter returns to us safely,” he said.
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