World Watch Monitor

One year since the Christian teenager Leah Sharibu was abducted from her boarding school in north-eastern Nigeria by an Islamist group, a coalition of groups have called on presidential candidates to tell Nigerians how they plan to secure her release.

“We are urging the political parties and their candidates that now that the campaigns have reopened, they should not begin any campaigns without addressing us on the future of Leah,” Mr Emmanuel Ogeb, chairman of the Coalition for Leah, told journalists in Abuja on 19th February.

Leah Sharibu 2

Leah Sharibu was 14 when she was abducted by Boko Haram exactly one year ago. PICTURE: Supplied.

 

"DANGEROUS SPEECH AND POLARISING NARRATIVES" FUEL MIDDLE BELT VIOLENCE  - REPORT

The use of dangerous rhetoric and religious polarisation has contributed to the escalation and can spark further violence, particularly in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, ahead of the presidential elections this Saturday, says a new report.

Central Nigeria is seen as one of the most influential constituencies in Saturday’s elections “because of its role as a swing region where the more Muslim north and the mostly Christian south converge and as a significant and continuous site of deadly sectarian conflict”, according to the report Central Nigeria: Overcoming Dangerous Speech and Endemic Religious Divides that was published last week by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In recent years the conflict between mostly Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers over land and cattle in Nigeria’s Middle Belt has become the country’s gravest security challenge.

As reported by World Watch Monitor, attacks by herder militia occur with such frequency and apparent organisation that the characterisation as “local disputes over land and cattle” no longer seems adequate.

Violence attributed to Fulani militants is believed to have claimed six times more lives than Boko Haram in recent years. In 2016, it was claimed that the herdsmen had been responsible for 60,000 deaths since 2001.

The roots of the conflict are complex with “many intersecting issues polarizing society” involving economic, ethnic and religious tensions but “dangerous speech and polarizing narratives around religion have fuelled violence, discrimination, and segregation between Muslims and Christians for decades”, according to USCIRF’s report.

It also highlights the role of hate speech and false information.

“Prominent Nigerian religious and political leaders in 2018 continued using polarizing rhetoric that amplifies fear and suggests the inevitability of further violence...Political leaders in Nigeria are increasingly using social media to communicate directly with the population,” said the report.

Since 2009 USCIRF has recommended that the US State Department designate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This would give the US government to “many opportunities and non-punitive measures” to “promote respect for freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria and to reduce polarisation and conflict between religious groups”, suggests the report.

- World Watch Monitor

Nigeria is scheduled to go to the polls 23rd February to elect a new president. Originally scheduled for 16th February, voting was postponed for one week.

“Leah has been gone for too long, so tell us how you are going to bring her and the remaining Chibok girls back. The fact that they [the government] were able to bring back the 100 girls that were adopted alongside Leah show that they have the capacity to release Leah,” said Ogeb, as quoted by the Daily Times.

“It is tragic and a political miscalculation for the presidential candidates to dodge talking publicly about their respective commitment to free Leah and others in captivity,” Rev Gideon Para-Mallam of the Citizens Monitoring Group, told the Daily Post.

Leah, 15, was taken when the  Boko Haram abducted 110 girls  during a raid on a school in Dapchi, in Yobe state, on 19th February 2018.

Following a deal between the government and the militants, Boko Haram released 104 girls, with the last five thought to have died in captivity. The group has kept Leah, a Christian, because she refused to renounce her faith.

On the first anniversary of her abduction, family and community members met at her parents’ home in Dapchi.

“We have gathered at Leah’s House in Dapchi today to show our solidarity to the mother and parents of Leah. As it is today, we don’t know the kind of condition that Leah is inside. Whether she is alive, healthy or sick, we don’t know,” Secretary of Association of Parents of Abducted Dapchi Girls, Kachalla Mohammed told newspaper The Nation.

The government should pay Boko Haram whatever they want in order to set Leah free, said the Association’s Chairman, Bashir Manzo.

“The President should expedite actions on the release of Leah. Let the president pay whatever Boko Haram is requesting so that this little girl will be set free,” he said. ‘’They would have done anything within their powers to release this girl if it’s their own child.”

In a government statement in March Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, said he was “committed to the freedom of the only Dapchi schoolgirl still in captivity,” according to the BBC. “The lone Dapchi girl will not be abandoned.”

Her mother Rebecca called again on the president to keep his promises. “The government should keep the promises made by the President and the ministers who visited us in Dapchi in October. They should rescue my daughter,” she told journalists in Abuja last week, speaking through an interpreter.

“Since [October], I have not heard anything from the Federal Government again,” her father Nathan said 19th February in an interview on Nigeria’s TVC, as reported by The Nation.

“The other bodies that have been deeply concerned about the development are only the churches and Muslims that are trying their possible best. The government has been silent on this issue. I am only pleading with government, as I always do, that they should do their possible best to see that my daughter returns safely,” he said.

In October Boko Haram threaten to kill Leah and three other hostages after it killed a midwife who had been serving with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

When her friends were released Leah  sent a message  to her mother, saying: “My mother you should not be disturbed. I know it is not easy missing me, but I want to assure you that I am fine where I am … I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In August in a 35 second audio recording surfaced, obtained by Ahmad Salkida for Nigerian newspaper  The Cable, in which Leah asks for help for her family and herself.

“I also plead to the members of the public to help my mother, my father, my younger brother and relatives. Kindly help me out of my predicament. I am begging you to treat me with compassion. I am calling on the government, particularly the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation. Thank you,” she said.

The religious freedom watchdog Open Doors is running an e-writing campaign to transmit letters of encouragement to Leah’s parents, while the advocacy group Christian Solidary Worldwide marked her one year in captivity with a protest in front of the Nigerian High Commission in London, calling for the release of Leah and of 112 girls who remain missing after they were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014.